Thursday, January 19, 2012

Thyroid cancer, fracking and nuclear power

An Activist Post Special Report, please share.

Rady Ananda
Activist Post

Thyroid cancer cases have more than doubled since 1997 in the United States, while deadly industrial practices that contaminate groundwater with radiation and other carcinogens are also rising.

New information released by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that 56,460 people will develop thyroid cancer in 2012 and 1,780 will die from it.

That’s up from 16,000 thyroid cancer cases in 1997 – a whopping 253% increase in fifteen years, while the US population went up only 18%.

From 1980 to 1996, thyroid cancer increased nearly 300%, while the population increased by (again) 18%.

Most thyroid cancers don’t develop for 10-30 years after radiation exposure, but the monstrous spike in thyroid cancer from 1980-2012 is only partly the result of Pennsylvania’s Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979 (TMI).

Pennsylvania, with its nine nuclear reactors, does have the highest incidence of thyroid cancer across nearly all demographics among 45* states, reports epidemiologist Joseph Mangano, MPH MBA, of the Radiation and Public Health Project. In 2009, he analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control’s national survey of thyroid cancer incidence for the years 2001-2005 and compared it with proximity to nuclear power stations, finding:

[M]ost U.S. counties with the highest thyroid cancer incidence are in a contiguous area of eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and southern New York. Exposure to radioactive iodine emissions from 16 nuclear power reactors within a 90 mile radius in this area … are likely a cause of rising incidence rates.


TMI also can’t explain why the thyroid cancer rate for the four counties flanking Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in New York was 66% above the national rate in 2001-2005.

Other, more subtle sources may also be contributing to hiked thyroid cancer rates, like leaking nuclear power plants and hydraulic fracturing, both of which contaminate air, soil and groundwater with radiation and other nasty chemicals.

Indeed, remarking on this, Mangano (who recently co-authored a controversial study with toxicologist Janette Sherman suggesting a link between Fukushima fallout and US cancer deaths numbering from 14,000 to 20,000) said:

From 1970-1993, Indian Point released 17.50 curies of airborne I-131 and particulates…. [That] amount exceeded the official total of 14.20 curies released from the 1979 Three Mile Island accident. In 2007, officials that operate the Indian Point plant reported levels of I-131 in the local air, water, and milk, each of which is a potential vector for ingestion.

Iodine-131, or I-131, is a radioactive isotope produced by nuclear fission. 

Fracking a ‘Dirty Bomb’

Radiation isn’t released into the environment only via nuclear plants and bombs. Geologist Tracy Bank found that fracking mobilizes rock-bound uranium, posing a further radiation risk to our groundwater. She presented her findings at the American Geological Society meeting in Denver last November.

Because of some 65 hazardous chemicals used in fracking operations, former industry insider, James Northrup, calls it a “dirty bomb.” With 30 years of experience as an independent oil and gas producer, he explains:

The volume of fluid in a hydrofrack can exceed three million gallons, or almost 24 million pounds of fluid, about the same weight as 7,500 automobiles. The fracking fluid contains chemicals that would be illegal to use in warfare under the rules of the Geneva Convention. This all adds up to a massive explosion of a ‘dirty bomb’ underground.

What’s underground seeps into our groundwater.

Thomas House and his wife have become ill since New Dominion, LLC began drilling for oil and gas behind their home in Wellston, Oklahoma. He’s tested the water for barium and strontium, and indoor air quality for BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes and styrenes).

Though none of the levels exceed EPA standards, he insists the drilling operations are causing their illness.

“We have been getting sick from headaches, nose bleeds, rashes, vomiting, burning eyes, and breathing problems for the last year,” he told me.

House is reliant on the Veterans Administration for health care, but it refuses to test him for BTEX poisoning. 

Radioactive Drinking Water

Though scientists have associated thyroid cancer with water supplies contaminated by nitrates (another knock against industrial agriculture), it is usually indicative of radiation poisoning, as the thyroid sucks up iodine – radioactive or not. Those with not enough iodine in their diets are more susceptible to absorbing I-131.

NCI says that the main sources of radiation exposure are X-rays, nuclear fallout and radiated food and drinking water. The Centers for Disease Control reports that women are three times more susceptible to thyroid cancer than men, with white women being most susceptible. Rather than noticing any symptoms, most often, they discover a lump on their neck.

The good news is that 95 percent of thyroid cancer is successfully treated.

The bad news is that radiation exposure is also coming from our food and water supply.

For over a year, a Houston news station has been reporting on a governmental cover-up of radiation in drinking water. KHOU says that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under-reported radioactive contaminants in drinking water for over 20 years.

But not just Texas authorities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also low-balled radiation stats by simply not looking for specific radioactive elements, which can be more common and more dangerous than, say, Strontium-90.

Eventually, Texas shut down two of Houston’s water wells shown to be radioactive.

From an investigative series by the Associated Press last year, we learned that 75 percent of US nuclear power plants leak radioactive materials. Documents from 48 of 65 commercial nuclear power sites showed that radioactive tritium leaked – often into groundwater – in concentrations exceeding the federal drinking water standard, and sometimes at hundreds of times the limit. 

Nukes, Fracking and Earthquakes

The global fallout from Fukushima’s nuclear meltdown means our food and water absorbed radioactive fallout. But, we also see an increasing number of earthquakes from fracking operations that further threaten nuclear plants, which are old, leaking and “brittle” (AP’s word).

Information compiled by Treehugger last year showed that of the 104 commercial nuclear power plants and 34 nuclear research stations, many sit in seismically active locations.


Though earthquake risk in Texas is considered very low, last October, Atascosa County saw a rare 4.8 magnitude quake centered 130 miles from the South Texas Project nuclear power plant. The temblor originated in Fashing Field, a highly productive oil and gas field. One company, Momentum Oil and Gas, is producing 3.8 million cubic feet of gas per day from the field.

Many states that normally had very low seismicity have seen an incredible upswing in earthquake frequency with the advent of hydraulic fracturing, which the feds have long known about. As far back as 1966, federal authorities suspected the fracking-earthquake link so strongly that they shut down Rocky Mountain Arsenal’s 12,000-foot injection well after several quakes rattled Denver.

In 1981, researchers suggested that mobile pressure dynamics could explain epicenters some ways distant from such wells.

Ohio recently shut down two fracking waste injection wells after a New Year’s Eve earthquake, and last November New York imposed a statewide moratorium. Ohio has two nuclear power plants (both on Lake Erie) and New York has five, operating six reactors.

Ohio’s 5.0 earthquake on January 31, 1986 that rocked eleven states and Ontario, Canada was centered 11 miles south of the Perry Nuclear Plant. Researchers suggested the quake was induced by fracking, writing in 1988:

Three deep waste disposal wells are currently operating within 15 km of the epicentral region and have been responsible for the injection of nearly 1.2 billion liters of fluid at pressures reaching 112 bars above ambient at a nominal depth of 1.8 km. Estimates of stress inferred from commercial hydrofracturing measurements suggest that the state of stress in northeastern Ohio is close to the theoretical threshold for failure along favorably oriented, preexisting fractures.

Not only preexisting fractures, but new ones created by the massive surge in earthquake swarms also present a risk. As modern horizontal fracturing techniques are employed, earthquake frequency goes up.

From 1900-1970, Arkansas experienced 60 earthquakes. After fracking operations picked up in the mid-1970s, that number jumped exponentially. Per the Advanced National Seismic System, in 2010 alone, Arkansas felt over 700 earthquakes; in 2011, it endured over 800.

The number of quakes in 2010 and ’11 represents a 2,400% increase over the number of quakes in the first 70 years of the 20th century, before horizontal fracking began. With that spike in frequency, is it any wonder that a new fault has opened up in Arkansas? Geologists say the new fault shows a history of 7+ magnitude earthquakes.

Though the 2001-2005 thyroid incidence data reveals that Arkansas has the lowest incidence of thyroid cancer of all 45 states surveyed, that may change should the new fault become seismically active and damage the state’s two 40-year-old nuclear reactors.

Of note, Arkansas’ nuclear reactors are run by Entergy, which operates eleven others including 40-year-old Vermont Yankee (strontium-90 found in nearby fish last August) and New York’s nearly 40-year-old Indian Point (failed inspection and sought over 100 safety exemptions last year).

Pennsylvania is another strong fracking state, vulnerable to earthquakes originating within or outside its borders. It also houses nine nuclear reactors at five locations. A swarm of small earthquakes occurred near Dillsburg from 2008 until early 2011, reports the state’s Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Dillsburg is 16 miles from Three Mile Island, which still operates one nuclear reactor.

Last August, most of the east coast felt a 5.8 magnitude quake whose epicenter was just 11 miles from two reactors at the North Anna nuclear power plant in Virginia. Both 30-year-old reactors had to be shut down. RT reports:

The odds of a quake exceeding a magnitude of 5.5 occurring in central Virginia are so slim that Dominion Power determined only around six quakes of that size would occur in the area over the next 10,000 years. 

Protect Your Water Supply

Radioactive particles damage bones, DNA and tissue, including the thyroid. Water softeners, ion exchange, carbon filters or reverse osmosis water-treatment systems can be installed in the home to reduce concentration levels. The National Sanitation Foundation certifies various products for efficacy in reducing or eliminating particular contaminants.

To reduce or eliminate radiation from food and water, see this compilation of articles recommending various techniques, including washing your vegetables in bentonite clay.

A more proactive way to protect the water supply is to decommission nuclear power plants and ban hydraulic fracturing, lest your hometown ranks among the 10 Most Radioactive Places on Earth.

*When the CDC surveyed states for thyroid cancer in its landmark 2001-2005 study, it neglected to publish data for Maryland, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Rady Ananda is an investigative reporter and researcher in the areas of health, environment, politics, and civil liberties.  Her two websites, Food Freedom and COTO Report are essential reading.



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17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Terrific reporting Rady, Thank you.

Anarcho-Capitalist said...

I realized that this is an article on fracking induced earthquakes but I will comment on aquifer contamination.

Our aquifers are a sacred public resource and should be treated with the utmost respect.

I have seen the movie Gasland and it does provide compelling anecdotal information. However, I didn't see a single geological diagram showing how the fracking fluids travel from the bore hole to the aquifer.

I am somewhat familiar with fracking in the Bakken formation in North Dakota. The depth of the Bakken is loosely at 12,000 feet but varies in depth from place to place. (BTW No earthquakes have occurred in North Dakota.)

Fractures tend to travel around 300 feet laterally in the shale formation. This is known because this is how far apart fracking is done in the horizontal bore hole to attain maximum porosity.

However, it is next to impossible for the fractures to travel vertical upward into the potable aquifers. For one, the fracture would have to travel through bedrock formations and then travel around 10,000 feet upward.

If the fluids were to travel out sideways through the vertical bore hole, they would have to penetrate the surface casing which is cemented in place and typically installed for the first 2,000 feet. Below that the fluids would have to travel through casing. In both cases the fluids also would have to travel first through the frack string. If this were to happen, there would be a noticeable loss of pressure.

No diagram or geological explanation has ever been provided that show how fractures travel to pollute aquifers, nor how they contribute to earthquakes.

So I am very suspect of this absence of diagrammatic, geological evidence while there remains this ongoing rhetorical assault on fracking. This has lead me to believe that we are observing a well funded, well orchestrated propaganda campaign.

Finally, it should be noted that potable aquifer contamination can occur, simply by drilling vertical water wells.

Illuminati Agenda said...

Yet another good reason to not drink the poison that comes out of our taps. 'They' have just begun a fracking program in my area and the only coverage I've seen in the mainstream media of it was of course, all positive with little to no opposition being presented :(

Anonymous said...

Excellent article Rady. I have one queston for Anarcho. Do you live next to one of these sites? If so and it was effecting you like it is our family. You would look at it differently.You assume.

Rady said...

@anon ~ thx for the kudos.

@anarco-cap ~ I'd say this article about industrial processes that pollute our air, soil and water includes a section about fracking-induced earthquakes.

An “aquifer” is defined as a body of permeable rock that contains water. “Groundwater” collects in an aquifer.

An aquifer is not actually a pool like on the surface of the planet ~ water molecules are trapped inside bedrock pores (or in the open spaces of loose unconsolidated sand and gravel, in limestone, etc.). So, we’re talking in the cubic nanometer range when discussing groundwater (with the exception of underground caves or cavities).

If you have a productive water wall on your land and vertically sheared the land nearby, you’d see what looks like solid rock. Depending on how porous the bedrock is, you’ll see damp or wet rock, but unless you actually shear thru an underground cave or cavity, you won’t find a pool of water.

Also, bedrock can be pretty close to the surface, even breaching it in places, depending on the geology of the area.

But, depending on how big the entire aquifer is, the total amount of groundwater can be substantial.

Vertical fractures can and do occur in horizontal hydrofracturing operations. See the image at this piece: http://foodfreedom.wordpress.com/2011/06/24/well-water-burns-homeowners-are-hot/

Here’s another image: http://geology.com/articles/hydraulic-fracturing/

Hydraulic fracturing is used specifically to increase the number of vertical fractures in shale, so as to connect with the horizontal fractures already present, (i.e. to increase the rock’s porosity and permeability). http://www.gpwlaw.com/practice/gas-drilling/

When pumping hazardous – some even carcinogenic – chemicals thru the horizontal pipe to initiate fractures in the bedrock, those chemicals then contaminate the groundwater.

Yes, it’s true that drilling a vertical well can contaminate the groundwater simply because you’ve provided another vector for pollution to travel through.

FatNSassy said...

Sadly, MSM is trying to blame obesity! Even sadder are the members of the public who are buying it!

Anonymous said...

If you had used a different start and stop date then thyroid cancers were dramatically decreasing. The point is this is more a statistical artifact then it is real. Kind of a scare tactic based on smoke and mirrors.

Rady said...

@anon 1:28 pm

oh, really? What start and stop dates do you suggest?

I went from 1980 thru 2012. That's the past 32 years. You want I should go back further? No matter what the stats are prior to 1980, that won't change the fact that we're seeing such a spike in thyroid cancer in the past 30 years.

* Nuclear power plants began being commissioned en masse in the 1970s.

* TMI happened in 1979.

* Thyroid cancer takes 10-30 years to develop.

So the time frame used in this article is perfect.

I can't imagine why you'd criticize my using the most current data available, unless, of course, you're merely trying to blow smoke at people.

Mauibrad said...

Good report. Thanks.

Rady said...

hey, brad ~ thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thyroid cancer rates declined dramatically in the late 70's and early 80's. The reason for both the decline then and the rise now is two sides of the same coin. That is about 0.6 in 100,000 people get thyroid cancer. The "rate" at any particular time depends on if the medical community is looking for it. It is a rare disease and can go unnoticed for years. So our current increase is a statistical anomoly caused by increased testing for it. The rate hasn't changed it's simply that we discovered more previously unknown cases in the past 10 years. What this means for the future is a likely decrease in thyroid rates since we have probably identified all the easy cases to catch. But in the end over time the rate will regress to the mean and there is no real increase or decrease.

Anonymous said...

I am in an area where the cancer death rate is out of site- we don't have Fracking in this area but we do have vineyard farms and crop farming. Chemicals that are used by the farmers are sprayed or spread on the ground. even the ORGANIC farmers use chemicals (does not sound like organic to me) that are dumped upon the plants/ground. my water table is 28 feet down, and I believer that these farmers are having a great effect on all of us. maybe it is time for NO Fracking and NO Chemicals by farmers!! Farmers still dump their old chemicals and oils on the ground, yum, this is good for us... Don't narrow your eyes to one problem, lets use a broad view and stop all these things.

Rady said...

@anon 6:29 am

You're right that there are many sources of carcinogenic pollution including ag chemicals.

Because this article focuses on radioactive water, it's not appropriate to include chemical farming.

But I agree we need to stop chemical farming, too.

Rady said...

altho I did mention that nitrates from farmers who use chemicals does contribute to thyroid cancer.

Anonymous said...

There simply are no areas within the U.S. where cancer rates are out of sight. You may believe that to be true but you have either been mislead or are simply mistaken.


The solution to fracking and chemical farming is easy. People who believe as you do should stop using energy and stop eating food. If enough of you do it I think most of our problems will be solved.

Anonymous said...

Cancer rates are out of sight everywhere. As for thyroid cancer, I have 3 close friends/family members who all have or had thyroid cancer. All live in the same urban area. I'm not so sure about it being "rare". I myself live in a rural area where it seems more and more people I know are comeing down with cancer of all kinds and no real connection as to why other than location. I recently had to have x-rays and a CT scan and I'm terrified about whats to come in my future 10-30 yrs from now.

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