HTV discovers new cluster of childhood leukaemia

The Nuclear Laundry - Again!
HTV discovers new child leukaemia cluster in North Wales
"worse than Seascale"

Childhood cancer on radioactively polluted coast of North Wales more than 15 times national average.
Brain cancer, leukaemia and retinoblastoma

Failure of watchdogs COMARE and SAHSU

Call for police investigation of cancer registry data losses

Following anecdotal evidence of childhood cancer excess in north Wales an investigation by HTV researchers was reported in the TV programme Y Byd ar Bedwar on S4C on 10th Feb. 2004.

The investigation resulted in the identification of 43 children suffering with cancer. They come from the area surrounding the the radioactively contaminated Menai Strait area of north west Wales.

Dr Chris Busby of Green Audit analysed the raw data collected by HTV. In his report (1 available on this site) Dr Busby demonstrated that the discoveries define the existence of a cluster of childhood leukaemia and brain tumours which is more serious and more highly statistically significant that the famous Sellafield (Seascale) 10-fold excess child leukaemia cluster discovered in 1983 by Yorkshire TV.
The report shows the presence of a 28-fold excess of child leukaemia (ages 0-4) in Caernarfon over the period 2000-2003 (3-cases, 0.1 expected, RR = 28; p < 0.0000). There are also at least 5 cases of brain and spinal tumours in 0-14 year olds in the same town since 1996, a Relative Risk of 18-times the national average (RR = 18; p<0.00005).

Not a random cluster
The excess risk is not confined to the town of Caernarfon. In the 34 wards (see footnote on "wards") surrounding the Menai Strait there were 6 cases of leukaemia 0-4 from 2000-2003; RR = 7.8, p = 0.0005 and between 1996 and 2003 there were 9 cases of brain and spinal cancer RR = 5.4; p = 0.0004.

Previous findings confirmed
These results confirm the existence of an effect identified earlier by Green Audit in 2000 in a three year study of cancer in Wales in connection with Sellafield coastal pollution of the Irish Sea. This study, which used Wales Cancer Registry (WCR) data from 1974-89 was supported by the Irish State and found excess cancer in adults and children living in a 1km coastal along the north Wales coast. The report particularly identified the coastal towns of Caernarfon and Bangor as having high levels of childhood cancer (up to 11-fold excess (see this link to a Radioactive Times report). The findings formed part of a BBC TV documentary Sea of Troubles broadcast in Feb 1999.

Retinoblastoma
The cancers include 3 cases of the very rare eye cancer retinoblastoma on Anglesey. All are teenagers. In Conwy there are two further cases, both under ten years old. Caernarfon has a further case, a child born in 1999 and diagnosed at age 3.
Retinoblastoma has been associated with radioactive pollution since the Seascale cluster of leukaemia is accompanied by a 20-fold excess of retinoblastoma in children of Sellafield workers.
The relative risks (RR) are uncertain because we do not have the dates of diagnosis.

For Anglesey, if we assume (generously) that they have been diagnosed over a ten year period then
in the population of 11,129 0 - 14 year olds
  • the three cases give a relative risk of 7.5.
If we assume a five year period
  • the three cases give a relative risk of 15.
For the whole of Gwynedd, if we assume that they have been diagnosed over a ten year period then
in the population of 33,797 0 - 14 year olds
  • the six cases give a relative risk of 4.8
If we assume a five year period
  • the six cases give a relative risk of 9.6.
Statistical significance is high. For the Gwynedd results the P value over the ten year period is 0.0015; over the five years P value = 0.00001.

Official denials revealed as a cover-up
The small area data used in the Green Audit studies were released by the Wales Cancer Registry (WCR) to the Low Level Radiation Campaign in 1995. Soon afterwards the WCR was closed and the data were removed from the mainframe computer. The new Wales Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU), which took over responsibility for cancer registrations in Wales in 1997, denied the existence of the childhood cancer excess in north Wales, although WCR had reported it in their Welsh Office report in 1994.

In its letter to the Department of Health LLRC will recommend that the police should investigate the manner in which a large number of records disappeared from the databases of the Wales Cancer Registry (WCR) after it was closed down in 1996 and before the WCISU published its own version.
The letter says "The phenomenon of elevated cancer risk along the Irish Sea coast of Wales had been identified by the old Wales Cancer Registry a decade ago. The closure of WCR and the subsequent removal of over 3500 cases from its files, including 15% of the total for 0 - 14 year olds, gave those responsible the opportunity to conceal a public health problem with massive policy implications. The airbrushing of the data has never been satisfactorily explained nor adequately investigated."

The new data cannot be denied
In 1999, the Welsh Assembly asked the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) to investigate. In an extraordinary dereliction of their duty, COMARE accepted WCISU's statements that there was no cancer excess. The new data, which cannot be denied as the children have been interviewed, suggests either that COMARE and WCISU have been covering up the existence of the cancers or that they are incompetent. (see this link to a Radioactive Times report of COMARE's role in the cover-up, and this link to see the questions COMARE failed to ask and this link to the minutes of the relevant COMARE meeting.)

Failed watchdogs

LLRC Campaign co-ordinator Richard Bramhall said "This cover-up goes back decades. After journalists and campaigners discovered the Seascale (Sellafield) childhood leukaemia cluster the Black Committee was established in 1984. Sir Douglas Black recommended setting up a new independent committee to advise the Government and protect the public. This was COMARE. Black also recommended that an official body should monitor anomalies in the distribution of disease to avoid the embarrassments of such discoveries being made by journalists. This was SAHSU. Both bodies have failed."
Click here to see news (20th July 2004) of UK Parliamentary move to replace COMARE.

The new Committee

The question of whether there is indeed an excess of childhood and adult cancer has been the subject of discussions of the new Committee Examining Radiation Risk from Internal Emitters (CERRIE).
CERRIE was set up by environment Minister Michael Meacher in July 2001 to examine the adequacy of the radiation risk model which is used to underpin the safety of exposures to man-made radioactivity like the material from Sellafield present on the coast of Wales.
Dr Busby, who is a member of CERRIE said, "The discovery of these children with cancer in north Wales by HTV is a very significant event in the search for the cause of childhood leukaemia. This is a much bigger problem than that which was the cause of the Sellafield investigations and it is in a much larger population. It is not a random cluster. Because of the presence of the brain tumours and other cancers the explanations used by COMARE and others to shift the blame from Sellafield can not be used. This is the smoking gun that everyone has been looking for. We have to ask very carefully why it is that the authorities, particularly COMARE, SAHSU and the WCISU appear to have covered up the existence of these children and the effect. I believe that COMARE and SAHSU should now be disbanded and the issue of the health effects of radiation moved to a new committee whose independence can be assured."


Click here for NEW ACTIVISTS' briefing (as a web page)
Click here for NEW ACTIVISTS' briefing (as a PDF file)
Click here for our first briefing on implications
Click here for list of local health bodies who ought to be concerned

Influential support for LLRC's objectives

We are demanding the closure of failed watchdogs COMARE and SAHSU (the Small Area Health Statistics Unit) and the establishment of a new committee to investigate and advise, as the Black Independent Advisory Group did in 1983 - 84.
Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher has written

I ... support your campaign objectives to call for a new Committee with a similar remit to Douglas Black's.
Marion Hill has written
I believe that changes are required to the means by which the government and the regulatory agencies in the UK are advised about the risks of ionising radiation to the health of humans and other living organisms. The current arrangements are not democratic, are inefficient and fail to make use of the best expertise. Now is the right time to change them. The principal changes needed are to disband the Committee on the Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) and to set up a new, more broadly based committee with a more focused remit and an independent secretariat.
Use this link to see PDF file of Ms Hill's detailed proposals for a new "Committee on the Health Effects of Ionising Radiation (CHEIR)", and her assessment of the limitations of present arrangements for advising Governments (reproduced with permission).
Who is Marion Hill? Use this link to her outline CV.
Wards
It has been pointed out to us that outside the British Isles the word "ward" is not well understood. Apologies for any confusion.
Wards are local administrative areas for the purpose of conducting elections and censuses. This usage is common in Britain and the USA.
In Britain each ward defines a population of about 2000 people. This is the smallest unit for which officially collected population statistics are commonly available. The figures are updated in censuses conducted every ten years since 1841 (or maybe earlier)
Urban wards cover small geographical areas, rural wards may be many square kilometers in extent.
Thus in small towns on the coast (there are many in Wales) the whole population lives near the sea (within a kilometer), but in rural coastal wards many of the people live distant from the sea.
The towns show the highest cancer and leukaemia risks and this difference in Relative Risks supports the hypothesis that it is proximity to the sea that drives the incidence of disease.

References

1 Chris Busby, PhD Nuclear pollution, childhood leukaemia, retinoblastoma and brain tumours in Gwynedd and Anglesey Wards near the Menai Straits, North Wales 2000-2003 For HTV Bangor Report 04/1; January 2004 Aberystwyth: Green Audit Get the report (as a pdf file 127 Kb)


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