accelerated” fatal cancers. Radiation-induced cancer is caused by exposure to some form of radiation and can take years to develop. However, says Bertell, in all populations there are people with subclinical tumors, that is, tumors caused by something other than exposure to radiation but kept inactive by healthy immune systems. Such tumors could remain dormant for years, or forever, she explained, as long as the immune system stays healthy and avoids trauma. “Then you have an accident like…Chernobyl, or a nuclear power plant begins operating in your neighborhood, releasing radiation, and your body is suddenly insulted with a radiation blow which damages the immune system. And the tumor, with nothing to hold it in check, begins to grow.” Such tumors, Bertell says, become aggressive, clinically visible, and possibly fatal. Here in Texas, Bertell’s theory could help explain an alarming increase in cancer over the past five years in Somervell, Hood, Johnson, and Erath counties. \(In one county, breast cancer has risen by 190 percent over the previrural counties in the rolling countryside of Central Texas share several common charac teristics. They are predomi nantly Anglo and agricultural. They are the home to many of the state’s dairy farms. And they share one prominent neighbor: the Comanche Peak Nuclear Plant. Comanche Peak began producing electricity and nuclear waste in 1990. According to data compiled by the Texas Cancer Data Center and the Texas Department of Health \(which compared statistics for the first five years of the plant’s operation to tality among Anglo males and females of all ages, and birth defects among all races, show a dramatic increase. The same data show that the increase in the rate of cancer in the four counties is higher than the statewide increase; and in 1994, for both Somervell and Hood counties, cancer became the number-one cause of death, though in the majority of the state’s counties heart disease still claims that distinction. Yet the unprecedented increase in cancer rates and birth defects for the region remains largely unacknowledged by state health officials. The two-thousand-three-hundred-megawatt nuclear giant, owned by TU Electric and built by Brown & Root, is located five miles northwest of Glen Rose, the county seat of Somervell County, and just south of the Hood County line. Hood County shares a border with Somervell to the north. Erath County borders both Hood and Somervell counties to the west. Johnson County lies on the eastern boundary of both counties. Prevailing winds in the area are from the south, with occasional winds from the southeast or southwest. After the plant began the nuclear fissioning process, it also began low-level radiation batch releases from gas decay tanks. These releases do not occur often, TU spokespersons say, and usually last for very short time periods. Other releases of iodines and particulates are vented “out of the stack” into the air. Plant operators are required to release this airborne radiation during “optimum” meteorological conditions, which would mitigate the exposure to the public and the environment. However, the meteorological data and the actual dates of releases are kept on site and are not available to the public. Even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has to request TU’s permission to look at the data. So there is no readily available means to determine when releases occur, what exactly is released, or what the weather conditions are at the time of releases. \(TU Electric has been asked to provide information for this article, but at press time none has been conference sponsored by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Commission, and the World Health Organization in Vienna, Dr. Gould and radiation health physicist Ernest Sternglass explained that “routine releases” of iodines and particulates from nuclear plants contain strontium-90, which finds its way into milk, water and food. This presents a serious health problem, because strontium-90 settles in bones and is a known carcinogen. Not only does TU’s nuclear generating plant release radioactive material into the air. At Comanche Peak, liquid low-level radioactive waste is held in holding ponds or discharged into the plant’s cooling pond, the Squaw Creek Reservoir, which is connected by two way pipelines to Lake Granbury, the primary source of drinking water for Granbury’s six thousand residents. Eric Schmitt, who oversees TU’ s radiological monitoring program, said that “to date, no samples have shown any kind of fission products.” However, in 1993, both of TU’s semiannual reports showed that a large number of monitoring stations had been inoperative, so data at those stations had not been collected. IN THE FOUR Central Texas counties, total cancer deaths for Anglos during the years 1985 through 1989 averaged 268.4 a year. From 1990 through 1994 \(the region were 339.6 a yearan increase of 27 percent. For the state during this same time period, total cancer deaths for Anglos increased by 15 percent. Cancers especially sensitive to low-level radiation are experiencing an even more troubling rate of increase in Central Texas. Breast cancer deaths among Anglo women have increased by 51 percent in the four-county region between 1990 and 1994; one hundred twelve women died from it during those years. During the previous five-year period cancer had claimed the lives of seventy-four women. The statewide rate of breast cancer increased by 12 percent during this period. In Hood Countythe downwind county closest to Comanche Peak, whose largest town and county seat, Granbury, is twelve miles north of the plantthe fig ures are even more startling. Between 1985 and 1989 there were eleven breast cancer deaths in the countyan average of 2.2 per year. From 1990 through 1994, there have been a total of thirty-two deaths from breast canceraveraging 6.4 a year, an increase of 190 percent. Age-adjusted mortality rates per 100,000 population in the four counties were also higher than the statewide levels, with Hood County’s rates 34.02 in 1990, 37.6 in 1993, and 26.12 in 1994. In the state, those same years reflected rates of 25.08, 24.66 and 23.57, respectively. In Erath County, breast cancer deaths among Anglo women have risen by 83 percent, going from 2.4 a year during the 1985-89 period to 4.4 a year since 1990. Somervell County, the most sparsely populated county in the region, with a population of five thousand, and the home of Comanche Peak, has seen total cancer deaths rise by 29 percentfrom 9.8 a year prior to 1990, to 12.6 a year since 1990 since the plant came on line. Lymphatic deaths \(which include all types of Johnson counties by 91 percent and 61 percent respectively, with Johnson County going from an average of twelve a year to over twenty a year during the 1990-94 period. The number of digestive cancers \(escancer deaths has also increased during the Since 1990, when Comanche Peak began producing electricity and nu clear waste, cancer mortality among Anglo males and females of all ages, and birth defects among all races, have increased dramatically. 8 MAY 3, 1996
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