WCISU debacle

Menai child cancer cover-up
Error or fraud?

Failure of watchdog COMARE

Call for police investigation of cancer registry data losses

A new report from environmental consultants Green Audit (on this site) has revealed serious errors or even deliberate fraud by the Welsh Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit (WCISU). This has re-opened controversy about high cancer rates near the Welsh coast. The story since 2003 can be seen on other pages on this site (use this link to earlier pages)
Since analyses of official cancer data have shown people living within 2 km of the sea are up to four times more likely to contract cancer and leukaemia than the national average. Inhalation of radioactive particles originating from Sellafield and migrating onto the shore is blamed. Risks are particularly high in areas near concentrations of contaminated intertidal silt.

Last year S4C broadcast a documentary based on an HTV reporter's discovery of 40 children diagnosed with cancer and leukaemia between 2000 and 2003.
Green Audit analysed the figures, showing that in towns on the Menai Strait the diseases were up to 20 times more common than expected. Green Audit put the HTV data into the context of earlier figures from the Wales Cancer Registry (WCR) which were given to the Low Level Radiation Campaign in 1995. WCR was closed in 1996. In the 1982 1990 period childhood leukaemia risks in Colwyn Bay, Bangor and Caernarfon were 5.6, 11.2 and 8.1 respectively.

Official responses from the Welsh Assembly Government and the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) have denied the excess risk on the basis of a WCISU report. WCISU admitted that in the period covered by HTV its own data showed statistically significant leukaemia risks in children up to age 4 were 12.8 higher than expected; in the surrounding area the figure was 4.3; in Anglesey it was 2.9.
The official line was to claim the findings were a random blip since there was no evidence of any previous excess.

Green Audit's new report (available on this site)reveals that WCISU's analysis of the earlier data is based on false assumptions about the population of north Wales. Green Audit's Director Dr. Busby said

WCISU always said they didn't know the base populations WCR used. We have now discovered that WCISU have used the wrong documentation which means they have assumed the population of Bangor, for example, was more than 3 times higher than it really was, thus diluting the number of cancers and making the actual excess disappear.
Richard Bramhall, of the Low Level Radiation Campaign, says the Menai cluster echoes the Seascale (Sellafield) cluster, which TV reporters revealed in a 1983 documentary Windscale the Nuclear Laundry.
That was a national scandal and led to COMARE being set up as a watchdog. COMARE has endorsed WCISU's report. Both organisations have failed and should be closed.

Last year a Commons Motion (EDM 1548) called for the closure of COMARE. It was supported by 85 MPs including Dr. Ian Gibson, then Chairman of the Science and Technology Select Committee.

LLRC's demands

  • that WCISU retract their paper with an apology
  • that WCISU is closed down.
  • that COMARE is replaced with a new open radiation committee along the lines suggested in a well-supported Parliamentary Early Day Motion in 2004(EDM 1548). Such a committee would include scientists critical of the current risk models.
  • The serious public health scandal associated with the increases in adult and childhood cancer near areas of radioactive contamination along the north Wales coast must be urgently addressed.
  • WCISU's handling of the data files it inherited from WCR in 1995-6 should be subject to a police investigation.


References

1 Is there an excess of childhood cancer in North Wales on the Menai Straits, Gwynedd? Concerns about the accuracy of analyses carried out by the Wales Cancer Intelligence and Surveillance Unit and those using its data; Chris Busby, PhD, Richard Bramhall, November 2005 Aberystwyth: Green Audit Occasional Paper 2005/3
Get the report
(as a pdf file 440 Kb)


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