Posts from the ‘Poisoning of Mother Earth’ Category
Natural News announces atomic spectroscopy lab to test for radioactive isotopes such as Cesium-137
Tuesday, January 07, 2014
by Mike Adams, the Health Ranger
Radiation from Fukushima has reached the shores of California. This has been confirmed by county officials in Half Moon Bay, California, who conducted radiation tests and found a 500% increase in radiation on the beaches there.
Alarm has been raised over the past few days thanks to amateur videos like this one showing alarmingly high Geiger counter readings on the beaches. “The videos follow other alarming news last month that starfish were mysteriously disintegrating along the West Coast, a trend that has not been linked yet to any cause,” writes the Half Moon Bay Review.
It has been confirmed that TEPCO lied about radiation readings at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plants. Actual radiation releases were as much as 18 times higher than “official” reports.
It is now widely believed by nuclear experts that radioactive elements such as Cesium-137 have entered the food chain in the Pacific Ocean and have begun to arrive on the shores of California. This means seafood caught in the Pacific Ocean must now be tested for radiation.
Natural News announces atomic spectroscopy lab to test for radioactive isotopes such as Cesium-137
Today Natural News announced the launch of its new laboratory project and the food science subdomain http://labs.naturalnews.com
Using high-end atomic spectroscopy instrumentation and working in partnership with the non-profit Consumer Wellness Center, Natural News is now publishing elemental analysis data on a large number of foods, superfoods, groceries, herbs and even nutritional supplements.
The elements currently being published at Natural News Labs are:
• Uranium (atomic mass of 238)
• Cesium (atomic mass of 133)
In addition, Natural News is also publishing the Metals Retention Factor (MRF) and Metals Capturing Capacity (MCC) numbers pioneered by Mike Adams. These numbers describe the ability of foods to either retain toxic elements contained in their composition or attract and bind with toxic elements found in digestive acid (gastric acid).
Testing foods for radiation
Radioactive Cesium-137 is the most prominent and dangerous element found in foods in the aftermath of nuclear catastrophes or nuclear weapons. Cesium-137 has a half-life of 30 years, and it persists in soils for 200 – 300 years. Cesium-137 mimics potassium in plant and human biology, so it goes everywhere that potassium goes (i.e. every single cell of your body).
Directly testing foods for radioactive Cesium-137 is extremely difficult with atomic spectroscopy because Cesium-137 has the same atomic mass as Barium. Thus, atomic spectroscopy instrumentation is unable to distinguish between the two. However, Adams has combined atomic spectroscopy analysis with laboratory-grade benchtop timed radiation decay meters to arrive at a highly accurate methodology which can determine both a food’s current level of radioactivity as well as that food’s natural affinity for absorbing the Cesium element. These two numbers detail the “radioactivity profile” of a particular food substance.
Natural News is now testing fish products harvested from the Pacific Ocean for their radioactivity and Cesium affinity profiles. Results will be published and made freely available at Labs.NaturalNews.com
In addition, Adams is also searching through hundreds of botanicals and dietary substances to identify substances which have strong ionic affinity for Cesium atoms. This research is well underway, and results will be published on Natural News.
“We have already documented the fact that Hawaiian Spirulina has an extremely high natural affinity for Uranium, capturing over 89% of the free Uranium in our digestion simulation tests. The Metals Capturing Capacity of Hawaiian Spirulina for Uranium-238 is 15.2, meaning each gram of Hawaiian Spirulina binds with 15.2 micrograms of Uranium.”
Spirulina’s affinity for Cesium, however, was much lower, clocking in at an MCC of only 2.6. “We are confident we can identify other dietary substances with higher affinity for Cesium, but the search is tedious and expensive,” Adams explained.
To stay up to date on the search for Cesium-binding substances, stay tuned to Natural News and the Natural News Forensic Food Lab.
The Real Problem …
The fact that the Fukushima reactors have been leaking huge amounts of radioactive water ever since the 2011 earthquake is certainly newsworthy. As are the facts that:
- Scientists have no idea where the cores of the nuclear reactors are
- Radiation could hit Korea, China and the West Coast of North America fairly hard
But the real problem is that the idiots who caused this mess are probably about to cause a much bigger problem.
Specifically, the greatest short-term threat to humanity is from the fuel pools at Fukushima.
If one of the pools collapsed or caught fire, it could have severe adverse impacts not only on Japan … but the rest of the world, including the United States. Indeed, a Senator called it a national security concern for the U.S.:
The radiation caused by the failure of the spent fuel pools in the event of another earthquake could reach the West Coast within days. That absolutely makes the safe containment and protection of this spent fuel a security issue for the United States.
Move south of the equator if that ever happened, I think that’s probably the lesson there.
Former U.N. adviser Akio Matsumura calls removing the radioactive materials from the Fukushima fuel pools “an issue of human survival”.
So the stakes in decommissioning the fuel pools are high, indeed.
But in 2 months, Tepco – the knuckleheads who caused the accident – are going to start doing this very difficult operation on their own.
The New York Times reports:
Thousands of workers and a small fleet of cranes are preparing for one of the latest efforts to avoid a deepening environmental disaster that has China and other neighbors increasingly worried: removing spent fuel rods from the damaged No. 4 reactor building and storing them in a safer place.
The Telegraph notes:
Tom Snitch, a senior professor at the University of Maryland and with more than 30 years’ experience in nuclear issues, said “[Japan officials] need to address the real problems, the spent fuel rods in Unit 4 and the leaking pressure vessels,” he said. “There has been too much work done wiping down walls and duct work in the reactors for any other reason then to do something…. This is a critical global issue and Japan must step up.”
The Japan Times writes:
In November, Tepco plans to begin the delicate operation of removing spent fuel from Reactor No. 4 [with] radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. …. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction. Removing its spent fuel, which contains deadly plutonium, is an urgent task…. The consequences could be far more severe than any nuclear accident the world has ever seen. If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire. Any of these situations could lead to massive releases of deadly radionuclides into the atmosphere, putting much of Japan — including Tokyo and Yokohama — and even neighboring countries at serious risk.
CNBC points out:
The radioactive leak at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant is far from under control and could get a lot worse, a nuclear energy expert, who compiles the annual “World Nuclear Industry Status Report” warned.
The big danger – and it was identified by Japan’s atomic energy commission – is if you lose water in one of the spent fuel pools and you get a spent fuel fire.
[Mycle Schneider, nuclear consultant:] The situation could still get a lot worse. A massive spent fuel fire would likely dwarf the current dimensions of the catastrophe and could exceed the radioactivity releases of Chernobyl dozens of times. First, the pool walls could leak beyond the capacity to deliver cooling water or a reactor building could collapse following one of the hundred of aftershocks. Then, the fuel cladding could ignite spontaneously releasing its entire radioactive inventory.
The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant is preparing to remove 400 tons of highly irradiated spent fuel from a damaged reactor building, a dangerous operation that has never been attempted before on this scale.
Containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago, more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.
Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) is already in a losing battle to stop radioactive water overflowing from another part of the facility, and experts question whether it will be able to pull off the removal of all the assemblies successfully.
“They are going to have difficulty in removing a significant number of the rods,” said Arnie Gundersen, a veteran U.S. nuclear engineer and director of Fairewinds Energy Education, who used to build fuel assemblies.
The operation, beginning this November at the plant’s Reactor No. 4, is fraught with danger, including the possibility of a large release of radiation if a fuel assembly breaks, gets stuck or gets too close to an adjacent bundle, said Gundersen and other nuclear experts.
That could lead to a worse disaster than the March 2011 nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, the world’s most serious since Chernobyl in 1986.
No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”
The utility says it recognizes the operation will be difficult but believes it can carry it out safely.
Nonetheless, Tepco inspires little confidence. Sharply criticized for failing to protect the Fukushima plant against natural disasters, its handling of the crisis since then has also been lambasted.
The process will begin in November and Tepco expects to take about a year removing the assemblies, spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai told Reuters by e-mail. It’s just one installment in the decommissioning process for the plant forecast to take about 40 years and cost $11 billion.
Each fuel rod assembly weighs about 300 kilograms (660 pounds) and is 4.5 meters (15 feet) long. There are 1,331 of the spent fuel assemblies and a further 202 unused assemblies are also stored in the pool, Nagai said.
Spent fuel rods also contain plutonium, one of the most toxic substances in the universe, that gets formed during the later stages of a reactor core’s operation.
“There is a risk of an inadvertent criticality if the bundles are distorted and get too close to each other,” Gundersen said.
He was referring to an atomic chain reaction that left unchecked could result in a large release of radiation and heat that the fuel pool cooling system isn’t designed to absorb.
“The problem with a fuel pool criticality is that you can’t stop it. There are no control rods to control it,” Gundersen said. “The spent fuel pool cooling system is designed only to remove decay heat, not heat from an ongoing nuclear reaction.”
The rods are also vulnerable to fire should they be exposed to air, Gundersen said. [The pools have already boiled due to exposure to air.]
Tepco has shored up the building, which may have tilted and was bulging after the explosion, a source of global concern that has been raised in the U.S. Congress.
The fuel assemblies have to be first pulled from the racks they are stored in, then inserted into a heavy steel chamber. This operation takes place under water before the chamber, which shields the radiation pulsating from the rods, can be removed from the pool and lowered to ground level.
The chamber is then transported to the plant’s common storage pool in an undamaged building where the assemblies will be stored.
[Here is a visual tour of Fukushima’s fuel pools, along with graphics of how the rods will be removed.]
Tepco confirmed the Reactor No. 4 fuel pool contains debris during an investigation into the chamber earlier this month.
Removing the rods from the pool is a delicate task normally assisted by computers, according to Toshio Kimura, a former Tepco technician, who worked at Fukushima Daiichi for 11 years.
“Previously it was a computer-controlled process that memorized the exact locations of the rods down to the millimeter and now they don’t have that. It has to be done manually so there is a high risk that they will drop and break one of the fuel rods,” Kimura said.
Corrosion from the salt water will have also weakened the building and equipment, he said.
And if an another strong earthquake strikes before the fuel is fully removed that topples the building or punctures the pool and allow the water to drain, a spent fuel fire releasing more radiation than during the initial disaster is possible, threatening about Tokyo 200 kilometers (125 miles) away.
ABC Radio Australia quotes an expert on the situation (at 1:30):
Richard Tanter, expert on nuclear power issues and professor of international relations at the University of Melbourne:
Reactor Unit 4, the one which has a very large amount of stored fuel in its fuel storage pool, that is sinking. According to former prime Minister Kan Naoto, that has sunk some 31 inches in places and it’s not uneven. This is really not surprising given what’s happened in terms of pumping of water, the aftermath of the earthquake and the tsunami, the continuing infusions of water into the groundwater area. This is an immediate problem, and if it is not resolved there is an extraordinary possibility we really could be back at March 2011 again because of the possibility of a fission accident in that spent fuel pond in Unit No. 4.
Mitsuhei Murata, a former Japanese ambassador to Switzerland has officially called for the withdrawalof Tokyo’s Olympic bid, due to the worsening crisis at Fukushima, which experts believe is not limited to storage tanks, but also potential cracks in the walls of the spent nuclear fuel pools.
Japan Focus points out:
The spent-fuel pool … was damaged by the earthquake and tsunami, and is in a deteriorating condition. It remains vulnerable to any further shocks, and is also at risk from ground liquefaction.
If a fuel rod is dropped, breaks or becomes entangled while being removed, possible worst case scenarios include a big explosion, a meltdown in the pool, or a large fire.
This is literally a matter of national security – another mistake by TEPCO could have incredibly costly, even fatal, consequences for Japan.
Like Pulling Cigarettes Out of a Crumpled Pack
Fuel rod expert Arnie Gundersen – a nuclear engineer and former senior manager of a nuclear power company which manufactured nuclear fuel rods – recently explained the biggest problem with the fuel rods (at 15:45):
I think they’re belittling the complexity of the task. If you think of a nuclear fuel rack as a pack of cigarettes, if you pull a cigarette straight up it will come out — but these racks have been distorted. Now when they go to pull the cigarette straight out, it’s going to likely break and release radioactive cesium and other gases, xenon and krypton, into the air. I suspect come November, December, January we’re going to hear that the building’s been evacuated, they’ve broke a fuel rod, the fuel rod is off-gassing.
I suspect we’ll have more airborne releases as they try to pull the fuel out. If they pull too hard, they’ll snap the fuel. I think the racks have been distorted, the fuel has overheated — the pool boiled – and the net effect is that it’s likely some of the fuel will be stuck in there for a long, long time.
In another interview, Gundersen provides additional details (at 31:00):
The racks are distorted from the earthquake — oh, by the way, the roof has fallen in, which further distorted the racks.
The net effect is they’ve got the bundles of fuel, the cigarettes in these racks, and as they pull them out, they’re likely to snap a few. When you snap a nuclear fuel rod, that releases radioactivity again, so my guess is, it’s things like krypton-85, which is a gas, cesium will also be released, strontium will be released. They’ll probably have to evacuate the building for a couple of days. They’ll take that radioactive gas and they’ll send it up the stack, up into the air, because xenon can’t be scrubbed, it can’t be cleaned, so they’ll send that radioactive xenon up into the air and purge the building of all the radioactive gases and then go back in and try again.
It’s likely that that problem will exist on more than one bundle. So over the next year or two, it wouldn’t surprise me that either they don’t remove all the fuel because they don’t want to pull too hard, or if they do pull to hard, they’re likely to damage the fuel and cause a radiation leak inside the building. So that’s problem #2 in this process, getting the fuel out of Unit 4 is a top priority I have, but it’s not going to be easy. Tokyo Electric is portraying this as easy. In a normal nuclear reactor, all of this is done with computers. Everything gets pulled perfectly vertically. Well nothing is vertical anymore, the fuel racks are distorted, it’s all going to have to be done manually. The net effect is it’s a really difficult job. It wouldn’t surprise me if they snapped some of the fuel and they can’t remove it.
And Chris Harris – a, former licensed Senior Reactor Operator and engineer – notes that it doesn’t help that a lot of the rods are in very fragile condition:
Although there are a lot of spent fuel assemblies in there which could achieve criticality — there are also 200 new fuel assemblies which have equivalent to a full tank of gas, let’s call it that. Those are the ones most likely to go critical first.
Some pictures that were released recently show that a lot of fuel is damaged, so when they go ahead and put the grapple on it, and they pull it up, it’s going to fall apart. The boreflex has been eaten away; it doesn’t take saltwater very good.
Like Letting a Murderer Perform Brain Surgery On a VIP
What’s the bottom line?
Tepco has an abysmal track record:
- Engineers warned Tepco and the Japanese government many years before the accident that the reactors were seismically unsafe … and that an earthquake could wipe them out
- The Fukushima reactors were fatally damaged before the tsunami hit … the earthquake took them out even before the tidal wave hit
- An official Japanese government investigation concluded that the Fukushima accident was a “man-made” disaster, caused by “collusion” between government and Tepco and bad reactor design
- Tepco knew right after the 2011 accident that 3 nuclear reactors had lost containment, that the nuclear fuel had “gone missing”, and that there was in fact no real containment at all. Tepco has desperately been trying to cover this up for 2 and a half years … instead pretending that the reactors were in “cold shutdown”
- Tepco just admitted that it’s known for 2 years that massive amounts of radioactive water are leaking into the groundwater and Pacific Ocean
- Tepco – with no financial incentive to actually fix things – has only been pretending to clean it up. And see this
- Tepco’s recent attempts to solidify the ground under the reactors using chemicals has backfired horribly. And NBC News notes: “[Tepco] is considering freezing the ground around the plant. Essentially building a mile-long ice wall underground, something that’s never been tried before to keep the water out. One scientist I spoke to dismissed this idea as grasping at straws, just more evidence that the power company failed to anticipate this problem … and now cannot solve it.”
Letting Tepco remove the fuel rods is like letting a convicted murderer perform delicate brain surgery on a VIP.
Top scientists and government officials say that Tepco should be removed from all efforts to stabilize Fukushima. An international team of the smartest engineers and scientists should handle this difficult “surgery”.
The stakes are high …
Make up your own mind Flashback: Fukushima nuclear meltdown caught on cam ? (filed under : The poisoning of Mother Earth)
Make up your own mind and watch at around 2.00 min. (a lot of smoke rises and than strange Lights .)
video found at
@CineversityTV via twitter
No Meltdown visible here : Fukushima one of the Reactors after the ?supposed? 9.0 Quake and following tsunami .
pic from 23 Apr 2011
Forgive them Mother (earth) for they say they know what they do but they didn’t !
my thoughts :
Make as many Wars as you want but Fukushima will get us all in the end ………………….
for conspiracy fans : The “thing” that shoudn’t be done , “was Fukushima nuked by someone” ?
read more here
If average Europeans or Americans want to maintain the current levels of their consumption, they will need three more “reserve” planets with the same amount of biological resources. Analysts say that the year 2023 will become the point of no return, after which consumers will either vanish or they will have to fundamentally change their lifestyle.
The amount of spending on New Year’s Eve in Russia confirm that people still prefer to spend as much as thy can on themselves. Millions enthusiastically bought food and alcohol, spent a lot on entertainment and clothes.
Economists may find this information as good news. People earn money and then spend it, which means that the country’s economic pulse is beating well. But those who prefer to look a little further than the next weekend, will see the signs of an impending disaster in these figures.
A book titled “We Were Consumers: Four Scenarios in 2023” was published in the Russian language in the beginning of this year. A group of Finnish scientists, economists, sociologists and ecologists tried to predict our future by 2023.
The year 2023 was not chosen by chance. According to calculations of climate scientists, 2023 is to become the point of no return. If the amount of industrial emissions in the atmosphere continues to grow by that time, global natural disasters will be inevitable.
The maximum permissible level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 450 ppm. A hundred years ago it was 280 ppm, now it is 380 ppm. One should not be amazed at disastrous floods, droughts, torrential rains and other natural disasters.
Modern industry has to work hard to service the growing appetites of mankind. According to experts, in the end of the first decade of the 21st century, every person was spending 1.25 times more resources than the biosphere allowed. A resident of Finland was spending 4 times more. In other words, to maintain the same level of consumption in developed countries, one would need four Earth-like planets.
The production of one liter of milk takes 140 liters of water. The production of one hamburger takes 2,385 liters of water. By the way, a kilogram of beef takes 22,000 liters of water.
Why we are so “hungry”? Do we really need millions of tons of food, clothes and so on? Of course not. It was clear already during the 1930s that all the world’s needs in food could be satisfied with a three-day working week.
It is interesting to imagine what the world would be like if people had to work only three days a week. We would not need to live for making money. There is no doubt that most people would easily find something to do during free time. Non-material human beings would become much more harmonious creatures, because they would no longer need to compete with each other for a piece of bread.
But it happened the other way. A rigid model of consumption was imposed on mankind. Advertisers and PR people did their best to make everyone believe that buying something new would not be based on the actual need to buy something. They made people want new things to become a part of the new wonderful world, where a car makes any man a macho, and a new dress makes a woman a star. As a result, people measure each other with the things that they possess. The majority of people constantly compete with others – “who has the most” – which means that sky is the limit for consumption.
Consumption paradise is coming to an end, though. Many of those living on this planet today has never made it into this paradise, though. But this is the way the world works: one-fifth part of mankind takes nearly 77 percent of the world’s resources. Poor people will not see any changes, but wealthy and well-to-do individuals will have to fundamentally change their lifestyle.
The first scenario of Finnish researchers is called “15 more years.” Each country struggles with chaos alone, although to no avail. Giant forest fires scorch out large areas, floods devastate coastal areas, terrible storms occur more and more often.
Pure water becomes a rarity. The poor begin to drink carbonated drinks and suffer from severe poisonings. Employees of large corporations are more or less fine, but this is not going to last long.
The second scenario is even more encouraging. Countries do not play a special role – local communities come to power. People begin to organize their lives and control how neighbors consume resources. Everyone switches to local products, because transportation becomes unaffordable and even impossible. Mass market is dead.
Medical expenses will be considerably cut. However, people will switch to healthy vegetarian diet, which will let them stay healthy at a much greater extent than they are now. The number of cars on the roads sees a considerable reduction as well; petrol becomes precious liquid.
The third scenario involves the World Government that saves the world. In the fourth scenario, the EU is given the role of the savior, which is almost the same, although a lot less possible.
Countries no longer have sovereignty; they must observe agreements relating to the environment, not to be punished by the World Government. All religions of the world will merge into one social movement, the main goal of which is to save the planet.
Excessive consumption will disappear, people will have different priorities and values. They will have to work a lot less.
It goes without saying that the concentration of power may lead to the appearance of dictatorship and oppression of those who can not or will not fit into the system.
In general, the choice that mankind is facing is quite narrow. Future generations will have to choose between the dictatorship of the world government and global natural disasters.
When a warning comes loud and clear from someone who has lived through what can only be described as agricultural Armageddon, it’s usually a good idea to heed their advice.
This week Greenpeace has linked European farmers, decision makers and consumers with American famers and an agricultural scientist to give a picture of what we could expect if we follow the path of US and Argentinean agriculture.
And this is not a path you’d want to take.
Greenpeace commissioned renowned agricultural economist Dr. Charles Benbrook to produce the first ever forecast of how Europe would be impacted if the European Commission goes ahead with its plan to authorise the cultivation of so-called herbicide tolerant genetically engineered (HTGE) crops.
The forecast gathers eyewitness accounts from Wendel Lutz and Wes Shoemyer, two American farmers featured in our documentary Growing Doubtfilmed in Argentina and the US. Farming communities have talked to us about how herbicide tolerant crop monocultures have affected their economy, environment and society. And now the US farmers are travelling with Greenpeace on an 18 day tour of Europe, inviting farmers groups, local communities and national politicians at each stop to discuss their growing concerns about these threats.Their message is clear: European agriculture will be irreparably damaged if HTGE is allowed to be cultivated.
So, who would actually benefit from HTGE crops?
Ecosystems and biodiversity will of course not benefit from having more agrochemicals sprayed on them.
If we are to learn anything from the experiences of our American visitors, many European farmers can expect inflated seed prices, more expenses for buying much more pesticides and the heavy labour and increasing cost trying to get rid of the resistant weeds that inevitably follow the HTGE crops . And those would be the lucky ones. A lot of farmers would simply cave in to the “big boys” who will be leading the farm consolidations that seem to follow the HTGE crops marching in.
Dr. Benbrook’s forecast paints an especially grim picture for Europe: if EU farmers take up HTGE technology as quickly as in the US, glyphosate use in maize crops – the most important and widely grown crop in Europe – will increase by over 1,000% by 2025 over current use, and total herbicide use will double.
Where there are HTGE crops, farmers seem struggle, communities suffer and costs increase. The effects ripple out across rural communities right up to our supermarket shelves.
It’s time to act.
We have to push the European Commission extra hard to ensure that HTGE crops aren’t given the green light for cultivation. Once we open the floodgates for HTGE there will be no turning back – the farmers we’ve spoken to in Argentina and the US can attest to this. In the words of Wes Shoemyer: “So far, the EU has stood very firm. It still has a chance to retain its independence, to retain its integrity.”
EU decision makers must decide: are they going to support the environment, farmers, consumers, and their constituents or are they going to support the agroindustry breathing down our necks?
We can see where the HTGE path leads and it’s not one we should be forced to follow.
Share our solutions with your friends – check out what Greenpeace is doing for a healthier agricultural system.
Lasse Bruun is a Sustainable Agriculture Campaigner at Greenpeace International
It played unwilling host to one of the bloodiest battles of the Iraq war. Fallujah’s homes and businesses were left shattered; hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. Its residents changed the name of their “City of Mosques” to “the polluted city” after the United States launched two massive military campaigns eight years ago. Now, one month before the World Health Organisation reveals its view on the legacy of the two battles for the town, a new study reports a “staggering rise” in birth defects among Iraqi children conceived in the aftermath of the war.
High rates of miscarriage, toxic levels of lead and mercury contamination and spiralling numbers of birth defects ranging from congenital heart defects to brain dysfunctions and malformed limbs have been recorded. Even more disturbingly, they appear to be occurring at an increasing rate in children born in Fallujah, about 40 miles west of Baghdad.
There is “compelling evidence” to link the increased numbers of defects and miscarriages to military assaults, says Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the lead authors of the report and an environmental toxicologist at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health. Similar defects have been found among children born in Basra after British troops invaded, according to the new research.
US marines first bombarded Fallujah in April 2004 after four employees from the American security company Blackwater were killed, their bodies burned and dragged through the street, with two of the corpses left hanging from a bridge. Seven months later, the marines stormed the city for a second time, using some of the heaviest US air strikes deployed in Iraq. American forces later admitted that they had used white phosphorus shells, although they never admitted to using depleted uranium, which has been linked to high rates of cancer and birth defects.
The new findings, published in the Environmental Contamination and Toxicology bulletin, will bolster claims that US and Nato munitions used in the conflict led to a widespread health crisis in Iraq. They are the latest in a series of studies that have suggested a link between bombardment and a rise in birth defects. Their preliminary findings, in 2010, prompted a World Health Organisation inquiry into the prevalence of birth defects in the area. The WHO’s report, out next month, is widely expected to show an increase in birth defects after the conflict. It has looked at nine “high-risk” areas in Iraq, including Fallujah and Basra. Where high prevalence is found, the WHO is expected to call for additional studies to pinpoint precise causes.
The latest study found that in Fallujah, more than half of all babies surveyed were born with a birth defect between 2007 and 2010. Before the siege, this figure was more like one in 10. Prior to the turn of the millennium, fewer than 2 per cent of babies were born with a defect. More than 45 per cent of all pregnancies surveyed ended in miscarriage in the two years after 2004, up from only 10 per cent before the bombing. Between 2007 and 2010, one in six of all pregnancies ended in miscarriage.
The new research, which looked at the health histories of 56 families in Fallujah, also examined births in Basra, in southern Iraq, attacked by British forces in 2003. Researchers found more than 20 babies out of 1,000 were born with defects in Al Basrah Maternity Hospital in 2003, a number that is 17 times higher than recorded a decade previously. In the past seven years, the number of malformed babies born increased by more than 60 per cent; 37 out of every 1,000 are now born with defects.
The report’s authors link the rising number of babies born with birth defects in the two cities to increased exposure to metals released by bombs and bullets used over the past two decades. Scientists who studied hair samples of the population in Fallujah found that levels of lead were five times higher in the hair of children with birth defects than in other children; mercury levels were six times higher. Children with defects in Basra had three times more lead in their teeth than children living in non-impacted areas.
Dr Savabieasfahani said that for the first time, there is a “footprint of metal in the population” and that there is “compelling evidence linking the staggering increases in Iraqi birth defects to neuro-toxic metal contamination following the repeated bombardments of Iraqi cities”. She called the “epidemic” a “public health crisis”.
“In utero exposure to pollutants can drastically change the outcome of an otherwise normal pregnancy. The metal levels we see in the Fallujah children with birth defects clearly indicates that metals were involved in manifestation of birth defects in these children,” she said. “The massive and repeated bombardment of these cities is clearly implicated here. I have no knowledge of any alternative source of metal contamination in these areas.” She added that the data was likely to be an “underestimate”, as many parents who give birth to children with defects hide them from public view.
Professor Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at Leeds University, said the figures presented in the study were “absolutely extraordinary”. He added: “People here would be worried if there was a five or 10 per cent increase [in birth defects]. If there’s a fivefold increase in Fallujah, no one could possibly ignore that; it’s crying out for an explanation as to what’s the cause. A rapid increase in exposure to lead and mercury seems reasonable if lots of ammunition is going off. I would have also thought a major factor would be the extreme stress people are under in that period; we know this can cause major physiological changes.”
A US Defense Department spokesperson said: “We are not aware of any official reports indicating an increase in birth defects in Al Basrah or Fallujah that may be related to exposure to the metals contained in munitions used by the US or coalition partners. We always take very seriously public health concerns about any population now living in a combat theatre. Unexploded ordnance, including improvised explosive devises, are a recognised hazard.”
A UK government spokesperson said there was no “reliable scientific or medical evidence to confirm a link between conventional ammunition and birth defects in Basra”, adding: “All ammunition used by UK armed forces falls within international humanitarian law and is consistent with the Geneva Convention.”
Dr Savabieasfahani said she plans to analyse the children’s samples for the presence of depleted uranium once funds have been raised. She added: “We need extensive environmental sampling, of food, water and air to find out where this is coming from. Then we can clean it up. Now we are seeing 50 per cent of children being born with malformations; in a few years it could be everyone.”
Throughout pregnancy, lead can pass from a woman’s bones to her child; the levels of lead in maternal and foetal blood are almost identical. Children and particularly the unborn are more susceptible to lead than adults. At high levels of exposure, lead attacks the brain and central nervous system, causing comas, convulsions and even death, according to the WHO. Children who survive acute lead poisoning are typically left with mental defects and behavioural problems.
Exposure to metallic, inorganic or organic mercury can permanently damage the brain, kidneys and developing foetus. Mercury can enter the air, water and soil. Its harmful effects can be passed from mother to the unborn child, leading to brain damage, mental defects, blindness, seizures, muteness and lack of co-ordination.
A toxic heavy metal, depleted uranium is what is left over after natural uranium has been enriched, either for use in weapons or for reactor fuel. While the US and UK acknowledge that the dust can be dangerous if inhaled, the jury is still out when it comes to long-term damage to people and their children. Scientists have suggested that its molecules can travel to the sperm and eggs, increasing the probability of cancer and damage to genes.