Baby Teeth Provide Clues to Effects of Nuclear Fallout
The study found that children born in 1964 “had about 50 times more strontium-90 in their baby teeth than those born in 1950, before the start of atomic testing in Nevada,” Kim McGuire writes for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The scientists theorized that children were exposed to the strontium by drinking milk produced by goats and cows that had eaten grass contaminated by the fallout. “Our work showed that prevailing winds carried radiation to our area and ultimately ended up in kids’ teeth,” Dr. John E. Gilster, a contributor to the original study, told McGuire.In 2001, 85,000 teeth that were donated to the study were unearthed from a bunker at Washington University and given to the Radiation and Public Health Project, a research group examining the links between nuclear contamination and disease. The new study supports many of the same findings of the Washington University study.
McGuire writes that the new study found that “[o]f the healthy donors, levels of strontium-90 were insignificant … But the donors who died of cancer had about 122 percent more of the isotope in their teeth than the healthy donors.”
”It’s important to note that cancer researchers define “environment” as “everything outside the body that enters and interacts with it,” the National Cancer Institute explains. In addition to the obvious environmental culprits, such as sunshine, radiation, metals and chemicals, other environmental factors include lifestyle choices, such as diet, alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise.
The ACS explains that a poor diet, lack of exercise and tobacco use are more likely to increase your cancer risk than pollutants found in water, food sources and the air. Still, when people “have been exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation, certain chemicals, metals, and other substances,” their cancer risk has increased significantly.
In a 2005 New York Times article, however, Dr. Michael Gallo, who was diagnosed with B cell lymphoma in 2003, denied that the dioxin he worked with the in the lab for 30 years was the cause of his cancer. According to Gina Kolata, writing for The Times, the Environmental Protection Agency considers dioxin to be a likely human carcinogen, and in high doses, it may increase the risk for lymphoma. But Gallo measured his own dioxin levels and found them to be extremely low.
Gallo and other cancer researchers believe that the relationship between the environment and cancer is far more complex. Factors such as diet, exposure to infectious diseases and genetics all play a part. “There is a gene and environment interaction, and the environment is much broader than just chemicals,” he said. “The challenge is to figure out what is the role of the gene and how does the lifestyle and environment overlay that gene.”