Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Is This Nuclear Plant to Blame for Soaring Thyroid Cancer Rates in New York?

Health + Wellness

Indian Point Energy Center is a three-unit nuclear power plant station located in Buchanan, New York, just south of Peekskill. Tony Fischer / Wikipedia

By Joseph Mangano

In the late 1970s, the rate of new thyroid cancer cases in four counties just north of New York City—Westchester, Rockland, Orange and Putnam counties—was 22 percent below the U.S. rate. Today, it has soared to 53 percent above the national rate. New cases jumped from 51 to 412 per year. Large increases in thyroid cancer occurred for both males and females in each county.

That's according to a new study I co-authored which was published in the Journal of Environmental Protection and presented at Columbia University.


This change may be a result of airborne emissions of radioactive iodine from the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which is located at the crossroads of those four counties and has been operating since the mid-'70s.

Exposure to radioactivity is the only known cause of thyroid cancer. Indian Point routinely releases more than 100 radioactive chemicals into the environment. These chemicals enter human bodies through breathing and the food chain, harming and killing healthy cells. One of these chemicals is radioactive iodine, which attacks and kills cells in the thyroid gland, raising the risk of cancer.

The new study calls for much more research on thyroid cancer patterns. According to the New York State cancer registry, the 1976-81 four-county thyroid cancer rate was 22 percent below the U.S. rate. Since then, thyroid cancer has increased across the U.S., but the local increase was much greater—rising to 53 percent above the U.S. rate from 2000-2014. That's statistically significant.

"The statistical aberration of increased cancer rates should be a concern to us all," said Peter Schwartz, a Rockland County businessman diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1986. "After Fukushima, it finally occurred to me that my thyroid cancer was connected to Indian Point."

"I am concerned that radiation may have contributed to thyroid cancer in my family," says Joanne DeVito, who spoke at the Columbia University event. She was diagnosed with the condition, as were each of her three daughters. "Our family has no history of thyroid disease, and doctors are at a loss to explain why this happened," said DeVito. She now lives in Connecticut, but for many years lived close to Indian Point.

Little is known about thyroid cancer causes. Risk factors according to the Mayo Clinic include being female, genetic syndromes and exposure to ionizing radiation. Earlier studies found high rates of thyroid cancer in those treated with head and neck irradiation (which ceased in the 1950s), survivors of the 1945 Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bombs, and the 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns.

A 1999 National Cancer Institute study concluded that as many as 212,000 Americans developed thyroid cancer from the above-ground nuclear weapons tests in Nevada. Radiation exposures from those test were considered low-dose. Above-ground testing was banned in a 1963 treaty.

From 1980 to 2014, the U.S. thyroid cancer incidence rate more than tripled for all ages, races and genders. Most scientific articles in the professional literature concluded that improved diagnosis cannot be the sole reason.

In a recent study in the journal Laryngoscope, researchers at Hershey Medical Center found local residents near the Three Mile Island plant diagnosed with thyroid cancer after the 1979 partial meltdown had a significantly lower proportion of the BRAFV600 mutation, which is not associated with radiation-induced thyroid cancer, compared to cases diagnosed before the accident and many years afterwards. The authors suggested the meltdown could have contributed to the disease.

Indian Point is located in Buchanan, New York, in northwest Westchester County. Its two functioning reactors began operating in 1973 and 1976. An agreement to close the plant by 2021 between Entergy (which owns and operates the plant) and New York State was reached in January of this year.

Joseph Mangano is the executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project.

Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Joe Leech

The human body comprises around 60% water.

It's commonly recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce (237-mL) glasses of water per day (the 8×8 rule).

Read More Show Less

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less

Trending

People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less