Friday, August 20, 2004

Idahoans urged to tell thyroid cancer stories

Study looks for links to nuclear testing


Certain Idahoans living with thyroid cancer, as well as other illnesses, have an opportunity to put a human face on cold statistics, which all too often pro-vide society?s only measure of the harsh reality cancer victims live with on a daily basis.

It?s possible that nuclear weapons testing conducted during the 1950s and 1960s by the U.S. government in Nevada could be responsible for a spike in thyroid cancer in some areas of Idaho. As part of a larger effort to document the possible impacts of the testing, the National Academy of Science?s National Research Council is asking people to tell their stories about thyroid cancer or other illnesses they may have developed as a result of radiation exposure related to the tests.

I urge anyone with a story to tell to come forward. Idaho is providing comments on the study, but stark computer models of potential nuclear fallout pat-terns and cancer rate models do little to measure the possible human costs of testing. We must ensure that Idahoans affected by this Cold War era testing have an opportunity to tell their stories.

The National Academy?s study will recommend improvements in screening, education, and referral services for exposed persons. The National Academy will also review whether the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act -- a federal law that recognizes potential impacts of the testing to those who lived in parts of Nevada, Arizona and Utah -- should cover additional classes of individuals or geographic areas, including areas of Idaho.

A scientific link between the testing and Idaho?s elevated thyroid cancer rates has not been made to date. And pinpointing a specific cause for the height-ened cancer rates is further complicated because of population movement in and out of the potentially affected counties since the testing was conducted. Here?s what we do know:

A 1997 National Cancer Institute (NCI) study concluded that residents of four Idaho counties -- Gem, Blaine, Custer, and Lemhi -- received some of the nation?s highest estimated exposure rates to radioactive iodine, a potential cause of thyroid cancer, as a result of the Nevada nuclear weapons testing.

A separate 1998 study performed by the Cancer Data Registry of Idaho, ?Thyroid Cancer in Idaho 1970 - 1996,? found an increasing trend of thyroid can-cer cases on a statewide basis, based on current population. The study noted more thyroid cancer cases than expected in Blaine, Custer, Elmore and Lincoln counties -- two of the four counties identified in the NCI study. But, again, the study was not able to link the trend to a specific cause and more recent data is no more conclusive.

Those with information for the National Academy of Science?s National Research Council, questions about the study, or questions about what types of information will be most useful should contact Dr. Isaf Al-Nabulsi, whose contact information is below:

Dr. Isaf Al-Nabulsi, National Board of Radiation, 500 5th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001; Phone: (202) 334-2671; Fax: (202) 334-1639; E-mail:

I sincerely hope that you will work with Idaho?s congressional delegation and myself to ensure that Idahoans? voices are heard on this issue.

(Editor?s Note: For more information, especially for people who lived in Idaho before 1971, visit

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