A new report confirms the late Professor Martin Gardner’s hypothesis that Paternal Preconceptional Irradiation (PPI) is a risk factor for leukaemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) in children of male Sellafeld radiation workers. The effect that may not be confined to Seascale and cannot be explained by population mixing. The study is to be reported by journalist Rob Edwards in the New Scientist tomorrow, Thursday 20th June.
New research, with wider temporal and geographical boundaries than the original hypothesis put forward by the late Professor Martin Gardner in 1990 (BMJ 300), not only confirms his original research showing an increased dose response risk of cancer in children of male Sellafield radiation workers, but also confirms that this risk was significantly increased with the father’s total preconceptional external radiation dose. The new research is a slap in the face to BNFL and the nuclear industry as a whole who have consistently disputed and discredited Gardner’s work for the last 12 years.
Authors Heather Dickinson and Louise Parker from the North of England Children’s Cancer Research Unit at the University of Newcastle confirm in their report “Leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in Children of Male Sellafield Radiation workers that children of radiation workers born outside Seascale had a 2-fold risk, hut children under 7 who were born in Seascale between 1950 and 1991 had a highly significant 15-fold risk of getting leukaemia and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This risk was raised significantly as external parental preconceptional irradiation (PPI) increased. This dose response was unlikely to be explained by population mixing. The researchers also said that the possibilities of the PPI effect could not be excluded outside Seascale. Children whose fathers were monitored for exposure to natural uranium before conception were also shown to have an increased risk.
The fact that Sellafield workers have had the highest radiation doses of any in the nuclear industry in Western Europe or North America gives the study the greater statistical power. The team concluded that implications of these findings for the current Nuclear Industry workforce should be viewed cautiously since current occupational exposure was low compared to earlier decades.
CORE campaigner Janine Allis-Smith welcomed the vindication of Martin Gardner’s 1990 findings and said:.
“ We have always believed Gardner was right. Sellafield is the dirtiest plant in the Western world with the highest radiation doses to its workers. Gardner’s work has withstood everything the Nuclear industry has thrown at it in its attempt to discredit it. It is deplorable and shameful that BNFL have consistently led workers to believe that Gardner was wrong, that it was just an association of no particular importance and that radiation exposure could not harm their future children. It comes as no surprise that BNFL have been uncharacteristically quiet in the media about this research which was published nearly three months ago.”
(Pub. Online Int. J. Cancer: 99, 437- 444, 26th March 2002), funded by Westlakes Research Institute and the N. of England Children’s Cancer Research fund.
A TV documentary 18 years ago reporting an unexpectedly large number of leukaemias in young people in Seascale near Sellafield, Cumbria led to much scientific research. Prof. Martin Gardner, (who died in January 1993) suggested in his report (Results of a case-control study of Leukaemia and lymphoma among young people near Sellafield nuclear plant in West Cumbria, BMJ 300, 1990) that Sellafield men’s exposure to ionising radiation in the course of their work led to mutations in their sperm which increased substantially the risk of leukaemia in their children (The Gardner Hypothesis). BNFL’s Health and Safety director at the time, Dr. Roger Berry suggested after the shock report that potential fathers might be moved from areas of high radiation and told a press conference at Sellafield “If somebody is that worried it may be the proper advice not to have a family”.
The Gardner report led to a High Court case in 1992, costing £10million, in which two Cumbrian families, Hope and Reay, sought compensation from BNFL. In both cases the fathers had suffered high radiation exposure while working at Sellafield. During the case BNFL produced a great deal of new evidence which led the judge to believe that the hypothesis was wrong. The families lost the case.
In May 1993 BNFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Andy Slovak, wrote in the BNFL News complaining about the downbeat national press coverage of research suggesting that population mixing (Kinlen theory) was the cause of the Seascale cancers and announced that the “chickens were coming home to roost for the Gardner theory”. In October of that year he announced that “ the Gardner theory returns to what it always was, just an association of no particular significance”. (BNFL News Oct. 93)
In 1994 eminent cancer specialist, Sir Richard Doll, announced that evidence showed that the Gardner hypothesis was wrong and that paternal exposure was not to blame. (Nature, vol, 367, 24.2.92).
In late April 2002, in briefing Sellafield Local Liaison Committee’s Environmental Health Sub Committee on the study, a spokesman for Sellafield’s research satellite at Westlakes promoted population mixing at the expense of the PPI impact shown in the study.