Lethal legacy

 作者:连哩辛     |      日期:2019-03-08 07:07:01
By Rob Edwards A NEW British study suggests the children of men exposed to radiation while working at nuclear plants are twice as likely to develop leukaemia. Researchers from the University of Leeds and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at the health of 39 557 children born to 18 131 male workers at 15 nuclear sites, including Sellafield in Cumbria, Dounreay in Caithness and Aldermaston in Berkshire. Funded by the British government’s Department of Health and the Health and Safety Executive, the study is the most comprehensive survey of nuclear workers and their families ever undertaken. The study is an attempt to confirm or reject the work of the late Martin Gardner, an epidemiologist from the University of Southampton. In 1990, he suggested that the high rate of leukaemias suffered by children around Sellafield was linked with the radiation to which their fathers had been exposed at the plant. Gardner’s theory was rejected, however, by the authors of the last major study carried out by the National Radiological Protection Board and others (This Week, 15 November 1997, p 5). Now researchers led by Eve Roman, an epidemiologist with the Leukaemia Research Fund at the University of Leeds, have concluded that Gardner’s theory “could not be disproved” on the basis of their findings. In this week’s British Medical Journal, the team reports that the risk of leukaemia among the children of fathers exposed to radiation before conception was twice that of children whose fathers were not exposed to radiation. The leukaemia rate in children whose fathers accumulated the highest doses of radiation before conception (more than 100 millisieverts) was nearly six times greater. The researchers point out, however, that the total number of leukaemia cases is still very low. They also confirm that the overall rate of all types of cancer amongst the children is not significantly different from that of the general population. The team presented their results to workers at Sellafield last week, but the findings have clearly riled British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL), the government-owned company that runs the site. “We find the study scientifically to be deeply and probably irretrievably flawed,” says Andy Slovak, BNFL’s chief medical officer. He suggests that future analyses of the survey results, which will look at infertility, miscarriages and other aspects of child health, could also be thrown into doubt. The researchers strongly reject BNFL’s accusations, however, arguing that the company has failed to understand what they were doing. “It is one of the biggest and most definitive studies,” says Martin Bobrow, a medical geneticist at Cambridge University and part of the study’s steering group. “And it is well designed.” Janine Allis-Smith, from Sellafield’s local anti-nuclear group, Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, welcomes the findings. “I am pleased for all of us who have always believed that Martin Gardner was right,