Tooth Fairy: We're All Aglow

Letters from the Issue of June 12-18, 2003

Which would have been apparent with a little digging: In "Return of Three Mile Island?" (May 22), Steven Dudley's inability to "sort out the real risks" of environmental radiation on cancer falls short of the in-depth investigative journalism one seeks in New Times. Had Mr. Dudley done his homework, he would have discovered the following:

Florida is one of the nation's leading "cancer states." According to American Cancer Society data for 2002, Florida is tied for first place. Childhood cancer in Florida has increased by 45 percent over the past decade.

Florida Power & Light's attempt to discredit legitimate cancer research by name-calling ("junk science") sounds shrill and shallow given that the results of the baby-teeth study (the Tooth Fairy Project) -- which links radiation from nuclear reactors to rising cancer rates -- has been published in five peer-review scientific journals based on the recommendations of independent physicians and scientists.

If the Florida Department of Health claims it could not "identify unusually high rates of cancers" in five South Florida counties, then why did it conduct a two-year study of 561 suspected chemical carcinogens to seek the cause of unexplained childhood cancer increases in St. Lucie County? Unlike the baby-teeth study, the Department of Health research did not test for in-body levels of radioactive strontium 90, a known carcinogen.

The nuclear industry's plans to build 50 new nuclear power plants over the next twenty years should concern everyone in light of cancer researcher Dr. Samuel Epstein's statement that "it is now critical to recognize that radioactive emissions from commercial nuclear power plants pose a grave threat to public health in southeast Florida, and throughout the nation."

Jerry Brown, research associate

Tooth Fairy Project

Miami Beach

Tooth Fairy: It's All Hype

Which would have been obvious with some research: I have looked at the information from the Tooth Fairy Project, but first some facts I found from various sources:

Strontium 90 is produced in the fission process inside the fuel. It also stays there unless the fuel is damaged (Three Mile Island and Chernobyl).

The half-life of strontium 90 is 28 years. This means that more than one-quarter of the strontium 90 from the days of weapons testing is still present in our environment.

Strontium 90 is a particulate so it is not released in the air. It can only go into the ground (unless blown into the stratosphere by great force. And even then it ultimately goes into the ground). So the primary source is via our intake of food. Have you looked at the food in the grocery store? Where does it come from? This idea of living near a nuclear plant is bogus based on strontium 90 in bone structure and where the food comes from in our grocery stores.

Also look closely at the Tooth Fairy Project report and you'll see it is based primarily on data from the Fifties and Sixties, which is then related to today. The numbers show strontium 90 from babies' teeth collected over the last four years or so to be at lower levels.

So where did I find all this information? I found these facts in the public library and on the Internet. Steven Dudley could too, but then that would mean he needed to research his story. So is he into truth in journalism or is he into hype? Maybe he should work for the New York Times.

B. Cowart

Homestead

Tooth Fairy: Way Too Cynical

Shame on your indifference and ineptitude: Steven Dudley's article was riddled with misinterpretations of the Tooth Fairy Project, its goals, its members, and its methodology to such an extent that it might as well have been commissioned by FP&L. It is shameful that such a serious public-health concern should be treated with such careless indifference and journalistic ineptitude.

The author failed to present information that is basic to understanding the facts and issues behind the story, and he refused to learn a little before he wrote. Is it not the goal of journalism to seek the true facts and present them objectively? Curiously it seems that little seeking went on. Objectivity is simply not there if the author states that FP&L and the Florida Department of Health released a report denying the Tooth Fairy Project's validity while not mentioning that many in the academic community have embraced the findings.

At least Mr. Dudley could have troubled himself to read the project's press release. It is endorsed by the professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, and has since received much more praise.

I leave author and editor with this comment: The cynicism rampant in this article does no service to New Times readers and can only be a detriment to the paper. It's a good thing New Times is free.

Chris Funk

Miami

Tooth Fairy: Where's the Junk Science?

It's your journalistic standards that are junk: Short of throwing your hands up in despair at ascertaining the truth about nuclear-energy health threats, consider a few facts that even laymen can understand:

Nuclear particles are being released in copious amounts into the environment by the nuclear industry. These nuclear particles have a half-life of thousands of years -- that is, they don't lose their potency. We are not simply exposed to radiation, as with the sun. These are particles we ultimately ingest, perhaps more than once, and that radiate inside us for hours or even days, pressed right up against metabolically delicate organs. Radiation has been shown indisputably to cause cellular mutation. Even a single mutated cell can be the basis of cancer. The nuclear industry has huge amounts of money at stake; the other side is working out of principle. It is never said in what sense the quantification of strontium 90 levels in baby teeth can be construed as junk science. Accurate cancer-rate information may not be available, but anecdotally the rates are through the roof. Government and industry have a well-documented history of collusion against the public health.

In the last few years corporate-media control has been greatly accelerated -- this in conjunction with lower support and standards for journalists. That results in greater apathy. Our entire culture is degenerating in this sense, which results in greater alarm to those who see it this way.

Stephen Levien

Miami Beach

Tooth Fairy: A New

Death Penalty

We need corporate capital punishment: Steven Dudley's article "Return of Three Mile Island?" describes the work of Florida Power & Light to discredit the Tooth Fairy Project, a nonprofit charity organization that funded scientific research showing background levels of radiation in South Florida are attributable directly to FP&L's nuclear power plants and are among the highest in the nation -- the equivalent of levels measured after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. His article concludes that the conflict between the industry's defense of nuclear power and the public-interest evidence is a standoff.

The public should know how scientists have addressed the issue of balancing the uncertainty of industry's impacts on public health and the environment. In 1998 scientists gathered in Racine, Wisconsin, to consider this question. The result was the "Precautionary Principle," which states the following:

"The release and use of toxic substances, the exploitation of resources, and physical alterations of the environment have had substantial unintended consequences affecting human health and the environment. Some of these concerns are high rates of learning deficiencies, asthma, cancer, birth defects, and species extinction, along with global climate change, stratospheric ozone depletion, and worldwide contamination with toxic substances and nuclear materials.

"We believe existing environmental regulations and other decisions, particularly those based on risk assessment, have failed to protect adequately human health and the environment -- the larger system of which humans are but a part. We believe there is compelling evidence that damage to humans and the worldwide environment is of such magnitude and seriousness that new principles for conducting human activities are necessary.

"While we realize that human activities may involve hazards, people must proceed more carefully than has been the case in recent history. Corporations, government entities, organizations, communities, scientists, and other individuals must adopt a precautionary approach to all human endeavors.

"Therefore it is necessary to implement the Precautionary Principle: When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.

"The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed, and democratic, and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action." (You can read more about the Precautionary Principle at www.monitor.net/rachel/r586.html.)

The common-sense aphorisms used to describe the precautionary principle -- "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," "Better safe than sorry," and "Look before you leap" -- are conservative in their essence and in theory are exactly what conservative Republicans should believe in. But today's Republican political leadership has one thing in mind: Make business work -- more simply, more efficiently, and more profitably. In fact both mainstream political parties have capitulated to industry, which is working its spin machinery to ensure that state and federal laws never reflect the provisions of the Precautionary Principle. Today corporations have even more powerful rights than people, and that is at the heart of our collective problem.

There must be a form of capital punishment for corporations. Recently FP&L succeeded in relicensing Turkey Point nuclear power plant and successfully fought to deny citizens the right to challenge the relicensing on the basis of safety issues. If the Tooth Fairy Project -- a modest and invaluable effort -- offers the public any insight at all, it is that our democracy must have the authority to revoke corporate charters. We must have the ability to put polluters out of business before our own species goes out of business.

Alan Farago

Coral Gables

Erratum

Owing to a reporting error in Francisco Alvarado's article "Beating Whitey II" (June 5), attorney Marilyn Holifield was incorrectly identified as a law partner of H.T. Smith. Ms. Holifield practices law at the firm of Holland & Knight. Also in that story an editing error led to a misstatement concerning anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela. Local Cuban-American politicians snubbed Mandela because, after his release from prison, he refused to repudiate Fidel Castro, a long-time ally.

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