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Thyroid Cancer in Children Increases 30-Fold in Fukushima, New Study Says
A study examining children who were 18 years and younger at the onset of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe found an increase in thyroid cancers, as predicted by World Health Organization (WHO) initial dose assessments.
The expected cases of thyroid cancer in children is 1-2 per year per million. Photo credit: Yoshiaki Miura / Japan Times
Lead researcherhis is more than expected and emerging faster than expected ... ” by either initial WHO predictions or studies of thyroid cancers after the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Tsuda was urged by international experts and the publishing journal to publish his study as soon as possible due to its potential implications for public health.
The study, published in Epidemiology, analyzed prefecture data up to Dec. 31, 2014.
There were no precise measurements of internal or external radiation exposure, so researchers used residential addresses at the time the catastrophe began in 2011 as a surrogate for dose. The highest incidence rate ratio was among people whose districts were not evacuated, approximately 50 to 60 km (30 to 40 miles) west of the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Data show 605 thyroid cancer cases per 1 million examinees. The expected cases of thyroid cancer in children is 1-2 per year per million.
A second round of screening, to be completed in March 2016, will include those who were in utero in 2011. Data already show an additional 25 thyroid cancers.
Ground contamination does not necessarily reflect exposure. Some of the most exposed people came from areas where radionuclide deposition was minimal, but radioactive iodine in the air as a result of the catastrophe still left them exposed.
The magnitude of the increase is too great to be explained by increased screening, since available data show that, at most, a 6 to 7–fold increase would be attributable to enhanced screening efforts. The data examined by Tsuda show cancer cases an order of magnitude higher.
The increase cannot be attributed to over-diagnosis, either. The cancers found by the screenings in Fukushima prefecture had metastasized to lymph nodes in 74 percent of cases (40 cases out of 54), meaning that these cases were not in early stages of development; medical professionals support this conclusion: "However, physicians actually involved with diagnosis during the thyroid examination unanimously agree that 'it is not over-diagnosis.' These physicians include Dr. Akira Miyauchi from Kuma Hospital, one of nation’s top thyroid clinicians, as well as Dr. Shinichi Suzuki from Fukushima Medical University, director of thyroid examination in Fukushima prefecture." Over-diagnosis "refers to diagnosis of disease that does not require medical treatment, as opposed to screening effect which means early detection of asymptomatic disease that patients are unaware of and which eventually requires medical treatment."
Contrary to claims that we would not see an increase in cancers this early (within a year after exposure to radioactivity), radioactivity from Fukushima could be the cause of the rising number of thyroid cancer cases, as excess cancers were likewise observed in the years immediately following Chernobyl disaster. Further, the U.S. Center for Disease Control recognizes a minimum empirical induction time of 2.5 years in adults and 1 year in kids for all cancers, including thyroid cancer.
Though the study focused on children, residents who were older than 18 years in 2011 should also be monitored for thyroid cancers.
In addition to predicting increases in thyroid cancers, the WHO also predicted increases in leukemia, breast and other types of cancers. The WHO acceded to demands by the government of Japan to reduce estimated doses. As a result, doses listed in the WHO’s report are 1/10th to 1/3rd lower than initially drafted.
The study concludes: “In Chernobyl, excesses of thyroid cancer became more remarkable 4 or 5 years after the accident in Belarus and Ukraine, so the observed excess alerts us to prepare for more potential cases within a few years. Furthermore, we could infer a possibility that exposure doses for residents were higher than the official report or the dose estimation by the World Health Organization, because the number of thyroid cancer cases grew faster than predicted in the World Health Organization’s health assessment report.”
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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