by Blanche Wiesen Cook

The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors.
By Jay M. Gould.

Four Walls Eight Windows.
346pp. Paper $14.95

The cold war is over, but there is no peace, and there has been no victory. A century of almost total war now ends with nothing settled, political alignments in disarray and no movement toward a peaceful future that might involve environmental restoration, human rights, sustainable development. In the United States, an entirely new generation of weapons is under way. Nevertheless, there are encouraging efforts to heal the wounds in the heart of the world.

Fraught within the frame of nuclear experiments, purposeful nuclear explosions and countless nuclear accidents, many unreported and still secret, the cold war did not need to turn hot to leave a trail of ruin, devastation and tears. The most enduring legacy of all these decades of expensive military madness may will be a planetary epidemic of immune deficiency diseases.

What will it take to disarm our planet's nuclear threats and clean up the mess we have made? Where are the responsible leaders to discuss international justice, citizen health and environmental recovery? Where are the peace movements? Who can afford another century of military industrial complex?

If there is one book that might stimulate a protest against our addiction to nuclear pollution and military industrial violence, it is Jay Gould's "The Enemy Within." Filled with high drama and high controversy, statistics and charts, it is a fabulous resource to mobilize concerned citizens.

Although environmentalists everywhere acknowledge our planetary connectedness, and the tragic costs of the nuclear era, virtually every word Gould writes is contested. The establishment media have failed even to consider the enduring legacy left by our idealized weaponry, while a veil of secrecy and distortion remains draped around nuclear energy and low-level radiation. Remember when the men in charge hired Dixy Lee Ray to chair the Atomic Energy Commission? She reassured nervous mothers: It is good for you, clean and cheap; trust me, she said.

Read Dr. Rosalie Bertell or Glenn Alcalay or Lenora Foerstel on the impact of radiation on the people of the South Pacific. Those fifties experiments had extreme results. From Zohl de Ishtar's "Daughters of the Pacific," published in Australia:

I saw a child from Rongelap. Its feet are like clubs. And another child whose hands are like nothing at all. It is mentally retarded. Some of the children suffer growth retardation. Now we have this problem, what we call "jellyfish babies." These babies are born like jellyfish... They have no heads. They have no arms... They do not shape like human-beings at all. But they are being born on the labour table... Some of them have hairs on them. And they

breathe. This ugly thing only lives for a few hours... They do not allow the mother to see this kind of baby because she will go crazy.

During the U.N.'s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing last year, women representing 189 nations gave testimony on the environmental hardships they endure. Rosalie Bertell reported on her most recent findings. Bella Abzug and her associates in the Women's Environment and Development Organization presented important testimony. Nevertheless, there is great resistance in some circles to Gould's analyses that connect instances of cancer, AIDS and low-birthweight babies with various industrial poisons and pesticides - especially when mixed with nuclear or radioactive pollution.

His most controversial idea is that men and women born during the nuclear age, especially during those years of atmospheric testing and accidental emissions or explosions, are most at risk because their immune systems are most embattled. Why is that a surprise when we know that children born after 1945 were born with strontium 90 in their bones and teeth, cesium 137 in their muscles, iodine 131 in their thyroids? Why are so many women under 50 now getting breast cancer? Why are young men and women the primary age group suffering from AIDS, as well as a great range of new and surprising immune deficiency diseases? One can read Gould's book and join a movement to end this scourge, or dismiss him as a crackpot and cuddle up with Dixy Lee Ray and a good mystery.

Epidemiologist Gould has been in the forefront of the battle against toxins since the seventies, when he conducted a ZIP-code-by ZIP-code analysis of toxic waste sites and disease. Appointed to the Environmental Protection Agency's Science Advisory Board in 1977, he has spent the past twenty years documenting connections between radioactivity and mortality rates internationally and locally, historically and currently.

In 1945 the Hanford nuclear weapons complex in Washington, producing plutonium for the first generation of atomic bombs, released into the atmosphere radioactive iodine that rivaled in magnitude that released in Chernobyl in 1986 - the nuclear accident acknowledged as the worst in human history. Between Hanford and Chernobyl the planet endured decades of fallout from atmospheric bomb tests equivalent to 40,000 Hiroshimas. The impact on the hormonal and immune systems of more than 80 million baby boomers was, according to Gould, immediate and enduring.

The percentage of underweight live births rose by over 40 percent in New York State between 1945 and 1965, as strontium 90 seeped into human bone from atmospheric abuse. Gould charts an epidemic rise in cancer and leukemia during the fifties in children aged 5 to 9. By 1980, they were hit by a wave of immune deficiency diseases never before experienced by this age group.

Economist and statistician, business entrepreneur and profoundly concerned activist, Gould - a wise and scholarly man now in his 80s - marched into his retirement committed to exposing the dreadful escalation of mortality rates caused by low-level radiation. In the introduction to "The Enemy Within," he explains his use of the statistical methodology that enabled his success in business, and as an expert witness. He credits such predecessors as Linus Pauling, Andrei Sakharov, Alice Stewart and especially Rachel Carson, who in "Silent Spring" identified strontium 90 as a "sinister partner" that interacted with and intensified the effect of pesticides and other toxic chemicals, increasing cancer risks.

During the fifties, that message was ignored and ridiculed. In my own research, I was stunned to find a memo from Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson to President Eisenhower wondering why that meddling scientist Rachel Carson should be so concerned about future generations: After all, she was an old maid, with no children of her own. And now, fifty-one years after Hiroshima, ten years after Chernobyl, the game goes on. Whistleblowers and environmentalists are still derided by mainstream politicians and pundits.

Gould reports a 37 percent increase in Russian mortality since the 1986 accident; male life expectancy dropped from 65 in 1986 to less than 58 in 1994. In 1958 Andrei Sakharov predicted that radioactive strontium would cause both immediate and delayed harm to the human immune system. But the Soviet establishment silenced him when he protested hydrogen bomb tests in 1961 because they would cause millions of premature deaths worldwide; he pointed out that man-made radiation would accelerate the mutation of all microorganisms - which would especially endanger vulnerable immune systems.

Gould and his associates at the Radiation and Public Health Project, a not-for-profit based in New York, monitor the health effects not only of atmospheric nuclear tests and accidents but also the little drizzles, sneaky seepages and hidden effluvia of low-level radiation. Using data from the National Cancer Institute, the Center for Disease Control, state health departments and tumor registries, among other sources, Gould documents the impact of radiation on the residents of "nuclear counties," the 1,319 counties in proximity to one of the sixty civilian and military nuclear reactors in the United States. The results are alarming: Cancer, AIDS, various birth defects and chronic fatigue syndrome occur more frequently in irradiated areas than elsewhere. As compared with every county in the nation, fifty-five of the sixty reactor sites he studied had a significantly elevated current breast cancer rate that cannot be explained by chance or genetic factors.

There are sections of this book written with such gripping power that one is left breathless with anguish. "Fallout and Immune Deficiency" begins with a devastating chart based on data from the Connecticut Tumor Registry documenting that breast cancer incidence rates actually declined between 1939 and 1944, the last pre-nuclear years. Those rates rose nearly threefold after 1945, and continue to rise today as women with breast cancer organize - (1 in 9.") Since the beginning of the nuclear age, 1.5 million American women have died of breast cancer.

Gould's earlier book, "Deadly Deceit: Low-Level Radiation, High-Level Cover-up," co- written with Benjamin Goldman and translated into Japanese and Russian, has been well used by antinuclear activists. It helped shut down the dangerous Trojan and Yankee Rowe reactors in Oregon and Massachusetts. Now, "The Enemy Within" is another call for action. It explains the catastrophe many of us living on Long Island's East End are entirely aware of: Almost every family has a tragedy.

Let me be frank. I know Gould, and I admire his work. I live in his community, currently America's premier breast cancer factory. From Fire Island to Montauk, through the fashionable Hamptons, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Incomparable sunsets over the seemingly crystalline waters of our region enchant tourists and residents, farmers and fisher-fold. But there is a flaw: More women contract breast cancer here than anywhere else in the country.

Gould amply demonstrates the reasons: Twelve miles to the north of the shores of Long Island Sound are three Millstone reactors, currently closed pending a Nuclear Regulatory Commission review of countless safety violations; in the heart of central Suffolk County, tow small reactors at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have for forty-five years discharged radioactive iodine, strontium and tritium into the air and into the Peconic River running into the bay between the East End's north and south forks. In Suffolk, women have experienced a 40 percent increase in age-adjusted breast cancer mortality since 1950. We never had to endure a nuclear war to be blitzed by nuclear fallout.

Prominent among those who trivialize and dismiss Gould's work are agents of the nuclear industry, who, inevitably, call his findings lies, damned lies and statistics. Initially, when public officials were told that Suffolk County has the highest breast cancer rate in the United States, they blamed the victims. Major studies have indicated that breast cancer is more common among affluent, Jewish women - who presumably eat Jewish food. Naturally, women protested: Jewish women in Suffolk stopped eating Jewish food before their mothers left the Bronx. Who can even find herring smothered in sour cream on the East End? There is another, more relevant explanation: There is a Millstone around our necks, a Brookhaven in our waterways. For many of us, Gould's work represents truths, damned truths and statistics.

His book is full of astonishing details - and the vibrancy of an ongoing struggle that includes a billion-dollar community lawsuit filed against Brookhaven this past February. Gould and his associates were given a grant by the United Methodist Church and donations from affluent East Enders to conduct the first independent clinical survey of Brookhaven's impact on water, soil, fish, wildlife and humans. Naturally, the lab vigorously opposes Gould's current study of strontium 90 in baby teeth - which he is conducting not only on Long Island but in the area around Los Alamos and in Albuquerque.

Gould assures us that there is still time - if we regroup and reorganize, protest and agitate. By demonstrating the connection between radioactivity and immune deficiency diseases, "The Enemy Within" should help drive a stake into the heart of the nuclear industry. Since the alternative is extinction, we must change the course of history. Gould and his associates at the Radiation and Public Health Project, Ernest Sternglass, Joseph Mangano and William McDonnell, give us the evidence upon which to decide: The time is now to opt for life, for the love of life.

(Reprint, The Nation, December 9, 1996 edition)

Copyright © 1996. The Light Party.

Top or Page

Health Directory