George Monbiot is unwise to trust Geraldine Thomas on radiation biology

George Monbiot's November 2011 attacks in The Guardian
Comments attributed to Professor Thomas

Professor Thomas is quoted on three topics
  • DNA binding of radioactive elements
  • Radiocaesium as a cause of heart disease
  • the capacity of dietary supplements to block the uptake of certain elements.
DNA binding
In the Guardian article 21st November 2011 Professor Thomas is reported to have said that radioactive elements do not bind to DNA and that [t]his shows how little [Professor Busby] understands about basic radiobiology.
The affinity of Uranium for DNA phosphate is well known. The affinity of the uranyl ion, UO2++ for Calcium Ca++ sites was known in the 1960s when the substance began to be employed as an electron microscope stain. The affinity constant was measured by Nielsen et al in 1992 and was of an order that would suggest, in mass-action equilibrium terms, that at quite low concentrations there is a significant amount of Uranium bound to the phosphate backbone of the DNA.
Strontium is reported to bind to chromosomes (Steffensen and LaChance 1960, Mazia 1954)

Caesium and heart disease
The article reports Pr Thomas as describing as ludicrous Professor Busby's statements about heart disease caused by Caesium. However, research after the Chernobyl disaster shows that abnormalities of cardiac rhythm and conductivity correlated with the quantity of incorporated radionuclides (Bandazhevsky 1999). The incidence and persistence of abnormalities of cardiac rhythm were significantly higher in ischemic heart disease patients from contaminated territories (Arynchyna and Mil’kmanovich, 1992). Professor Bandashevsky's presentation to the 2009 Conference of the ECRR (ECRR 2011) makes it clear that Caesium 137 is the isotope of interest. For example, with increasing concentrations of Cs-137 there is a consistent and dramatic increase in the proportion of children with ECG modifications. The effects are apparent at Cs-137 levels as low as 12 Becquerels per Kilogram. A short paper outlining the findings and the biological mechanisms is on this site. See this video in which Professor Busby explains the biological mechanism.
The ECRR 2011 reference above is described on the website of the European Committee on Radiation Risk

Supplements
George Monbiot quotes Professor Thomas as claiming that none of the products referred to in the article is useful. This is falsified by research conducted in the 1950s and '60s at a time when the presence of Strontium-90 in weapons test fallout was a matter of political and scientific concern. Various papers showed that administration of stable Calcium and Strontium blocks the absorption of Strontium-90 and other radioactive Calcium mimics. Spencer et al 1967 showed the method worked in human beings; Palmer et al 1958 and Kawin 1959 demonstrated that it worked in rats. (
Here is a short explanatory paper.
[UPDATE on blocking strontium absorption: 3rd December 2011]
Note that proprietory calcium/magnesium supplements may contain Vitamin D and should not be administered to children.)

It therefore appears that all Pr Thomas' statements are seriously in error. In 2011 we asked her whether Monbiot quoted her accurately. Here's the letter. She replied that she stood by her comments.


References

Arynchyna, N. T. & Mil’kmanovich, V. K. (1992). Comparison of circadian monitoring of cardiac arrhythmias in patients with cardiac ischemia living in radioactive-contaminated and clean territories of the southern part of Belarus. Jubilee Conference 125 Years of the Belarus Scientific Therapeutic Society, December 22–23, 1992, Minsk (Abstracts, Minsk): pp. 75–76.

Bandazhevsky,Yu. I. (1999). Pathology of Incorporated Ionizing Radiation. Belarus Technical University, Minsk.

ECRR 2011 Fukushima and Health: What to Expect. Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, May 5th/6th 2009, Lesvos, Greece. Green Audit. Busby C, Busby J, Rietuma D, de Messières M. (eds) ISBN: 978-1897761-17-5. (www.euradcom.eu)

Kawin B (1959) Effects of stable Calcium and Strontium on deposition of Ca45 and Sr90 in bone. Experientia XV/8 313-314

Mazia D 1954 Untitled in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 40: 521.

Nielsen P E, Hiort C, Sonnichsen S O, Buchardt O, Dahl O, Norden B, (1992) DNA binding and photocleavage by Uranyl VI salts. J. Am. Chem.Soc. 114: 4967-4975.

Palmer RF, Thompson RC and Kornberg HA (1958) Effect of Calcium on Deposition of Ca45 and Sr90 in rats. Science 127 1515-6

Steffensen D and LaChance LE (1960) Radioisotopes and the Genetic Mechanism: Cytology and Genetics of Divalent Metals in Nuclei and Chromosomes (research carried out at Brookhaven National Laboratory under the auspices of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission), in RS Caldecott and L Snyder (eds.) Radioisotopes in the Biosphere 132

Spencer H, Lewin L and Samachson J (1967) Effect of stable Strontium on radioStrontium excretion in man. Radiation Research 31 876-888

Richard Bramhall: 27th November 2011; updated Feb 2017

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