Since 1961 Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass, radiologist at the University of Pittsburgh has been a national spokesman for the
lowering of the radioactive level in the environment. His articles have appeared in Science, the New York Times, and
in September 1969, Esquire held its presses to permit the insertion of his article, "The Death of All Children."
Sternglass has appeared before the Pentagon "think tank," has been interviewed by John Chancellor for NBC, and has
been called by Phil Boffey, "The Controversial Prophet of Doom." Yet for 15 years he was a Westinghouse researcher,
one of those many who were working to bring about the dream of the peaceful atom, until it appeared that the atom
could not be so easily cajoled.
Following his initial protests, his research funds were reduced to small grants. Nevertheless, he has continued to do
research and inform the public of the grave dangers of man-made radiation released into the environment.
"I’m hoping this message can get out," said Sternglass. "It’s horrendous in its implications, and it’s difficult for people to
accept that something we’ve been doing for twenty to thirty years, may be the cause of this monstrous increase in
cancers and heart disease."
In December 1975 Sternglass testified at the Public Hearing for the Light Water Breeder Reactor planned for the
Shippingport Reactor, located 25 miles west of Pittsburgh. Last March he testified in Washington, at a hearing of the
Environmental Protection Agency, which is trying to set new standards for radiation. At both hearings he produced
evidence that, he said, "now indicates that the effects of low-level radiation on the general population, and above all on
the far more susceptible unborn and newly-born, are 100 to 1,000 times worse than even I had at first realized."
This new data comes from two independent studies, one by the Canadian physician and biochemist Dr. Abram Petkau,
the other by the Japanese Cancer Society.
In the fifties, it was widely believed that a safe "threshold" of radiation existed. This was assumed to be a level of about
50 to 200 rads per individual over a few days, or as high as 1,000 rads over one year. Only at 100 rads were there
supposed to be symptoms of "radiation sickness" — slight diminution in blood cell counts, possible nausea, and
vomiting, and some increase in cancer risk or genetic defects. Only doses as large as 500 to 1,000 rads were believed to
be lethal, causing depression of blood cells and platelets, followed by death within twenty days.
Initial disproof of the threshold theory came from x-ray studies done by Dr. Alice Stewart of Oxford and Dr. Brian
MacMahon of Harvard.
In 1955 Steward undertook to discover why the number of children in England, dying from leukemia, had abruptly
jumped by 50 percent in the post WWII years. She interviewed 1,299 mothers whose children had died from cancer,
and found that these women had received a series of pelvic x-rays while pregnant. (The dose of such an exposure is
about 200 to 400 millirads or 0.2 to 0.4 rads — the equivalent of an individual’s exposure to fallout from a distant 100
megaton bomb.) Stewart compared this data with that of an equal-size control group of mothers, who had not been x-
rayed, and had given birth to healthy children. In 1958 she published the results: the children who had been x-rayed in
utero were twice as susceptible to leukemia and other forms of cancer.
In 1961 Dr. MacMahon published results, which confirmed those of Dr. Steward, with the addition that the risk of
cancer increased with the number of exposures.
Thus the threshold theory was severely challenged. Only about half a rad or 500 millirads, instead of 200 rads, could
increase a baby’s chance of fatal leukemia by 50 percent.
Though these studies produced convincing results, it was clear that medical x-rays had not been the sole factor in the 50
percent increase in cancer rates in children following WWII. Since the 1920s medical x-rays had been used without a
noteworthy increase in cancer rates. Dr. Stewart estimated that only about 5 percent of the increase in her study could
be attributed to medical x-rays.
It was in the 50's, however, that a totally unprecedented factor had been let loose on the world, in the form of fallout
from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Dr. Sternglass now feels that most of this increase was due to worldwide
fallout after these bombings.
Although Steward and MacMahon replaced the threshold theory by a linear concept in which effects are in direct
relation to exposure, their findings did not reveal the full magnitude of the problem.
In 1972 Dr. Abram Petkau in his work with cell membranes, discovered that the greatest cell damage occurs, not in flash
exposures as in medical x-rays or in a Hiroshima-type bombing, but when radiation is given in low dosage over a
protracted period. Petkau found that the effects of low dose radiation are in fact "super linear," since they rise rapidly
for small, extended doses, then level off as radiation increases. In a brief flash exposure, excited molecules of oxygen
in a cell neutralize each other in a process known as "recombination" or "de-excitation." Although this process has been
known to occur in gases and chemicals for many years, it was Petkau who first applied it to the reaction of activated
oxygen molecules in cell membranes, during periods of radiation.
Petkau also observed the effect on cell membranes during low-level irradiation, over an extended period. At this time
oxygen molecules leave their neutral or "ground" state and enter a "spin" state, by first accepting an extra electron and
then losing it. It thus becomes a free radical, diffusing to the cell membrane more efficiency and initiating a chain
reaction producing thousand of thousands of similar molecules.
This process of oxidation destroys the fatty lipid molecules of the cell membrane, weakens the membrane and impairs
the immune process by which a cell guards the body against infection by viruses, bacteria, or cancer cells. Protracted
low-level radiation can thus damage the cells and increase the organism’s susceptibility to numerous forms of disease —
leukemia, cancer, heart disease, chronic illnesses, and simple measles, among others.
"We can now see where we made our mistake," said Sternglass. "We believed we could use the cancer data directly
from Hiroshima survivors. But these were irradiated in a brief flash that lasted for only a fraction of a second. That
involved an entirely different physically damaging process (mainly in the genes) when compared with the same amount
of radiation protracted over a period of years, as during nuclear fallout or emission and leakage from nuclear plants."
"As compared with Stewart’s studies, instead of 100 to 200 rads, we now know that it takes as little as1/10ths to 2/10ths
of a rad (or 10 to 20 millirads) at very low levels to double the chance of cancer. The first 5 to 10 millirads are the most
damaging, although there is no amount that is safe — no threshold. Every fraction of a millirad has some effect."
"The toxicity of the most radioactive substances is now known to be many millions of times greater than the equal
weight of the most toxic chemicals. One grad\m of strontium-90 in a city reservoir, for example, is roughly equivalent to
a few hundred tons of thalidomide in the same body of water, as far as a developing baby in concerned. As a result, the
EPA calculations on the risk to human life have been underestimated by a factor of 100 to 1,000 times."
The present legal maximum exposure is 500 millirads per individual per year, with a recommended average of 170
millirads. By comparison, the total natural or "background" radiation is estimated at 100 millirads annually.
The recent study by the Japanese Cancer Society confirms Petkau’s findings, showing a correlation of the rise in cancer
rates for the population of all ages, with the rise in general background radiation. In the period from 1920 to 1950,
although Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization, the cancer rate remained relatively stable, fluctuating no more
than 5 percent. Although chemicals and soot from power plants were steadily being released into the atmosphere, there
was no sharp rise in cancer until 4 to 5 years after the first detonation of A bombs.
With continued bomb tests during the 1950s, cancer rates continued to climb. Then five years after the testing
moratorium (1959 to 1962), a dramatic leveling off in cancer rates took place. With subsequent testing; however, the
increase resumed. A new decline did not occur until some 5 years after the last big tests ended.
"In no way is this what one could expect from a general and steady increase in chemical pollution," said Sternglass.
"There would have been no sharp increase in a matter of a few years. And yet there is a 15 percent increase in mortality
in only 15 to 20 years. The correlation between increase and decrease in cancer rates and periods of increased and
decreased radiation is too strong to regard lightly."
The Japanese data matches that of the US and Europe, which records the same double peak effect. Furthermore, the
data is particularly important since it makes a comprehensive study of all age groups. "This increase in cancer rates after
four to five years is not a freak occurrence," said Sternglass. "I’ve predicted such increases in cancer rates from fallout
since the early 60’s. In December of 1970, the Baneberry test broke through the surface and a cloud of radioactive
gases, 8,000 feet high, drifted across the United States. Five years later, in 1975, there was an unprecedented 3 percent
rise in cancer in the United States."
"When you release Carbon 14, Tritium, Krypton into the air, it just doesn’t stay in one place. It travels with the winds
all over the globe, in a matter of a week to 10 days. A bomb detonated in China rains out on the U.S. then on Europe. It
covers Russia with fallout and ironically ends up damaging the Chinese children." The dangers of radiation are great on
many levels. Besides increasing an organism’s vulnerability to all types of disease, radiation effects the protective layer
of ozone in the upper atmosphere with the end result of disrupting the process of photosynthesis, increasing skin cancer
in man and animals and disrupting the total food cycle.
In addition, studies show that radiation actually multiplies the effects of chemical poisoning. If uranium miners have a
10 percent chance of cancer from exposure to uranium in a mine and a 10 percent chance of cancer from smoking, the
combined effect is not a 20 fold but a 100-fold increase in the risk. "But what worries me the most," said Sternglass," is
the subtle effects that lead to brain damage, minimal brain dysfunction, learning disabilities, visual problems and hearing
loss — all the things that make it more difficult for a child to learn. That’s where this society can really destroy itself.
The real danger is in the subtle deterioration of the quality of the human mind."
In his book Low Level Radiation, Sternglass writes: "Statistics from all over the world kept indicating that radiation was
the dominant factor in these changes in mortality trends. The only introduction of some new and enormously powerful
biological agent on a worldwide scale could produce such sudden rises in death rates. And this new agent clearly
seemed to be fallout that had been released into the atmosphere in quantities equivalent to tens of millions of pounds of
radium, the most powerful biological poisons yet created by man, circling the world in a matter of a few weeks and
attacking mainly the weakest in every living species — the developing young and the very old." In 1973, 27,000 copies
of these books were removed from the Ballantine warehouse and burned after the company was taken over by (RCA)
Random House, which has strong ties to the military and industrial establishment. Other titles destroyed included:
Nuclear Dilemma by Gene Byerton, The Diligent Destroyers by George Laycock, and Chemical and Biological
Weapons by Dr. George Wald, (a UN study.)
At the time, 22,000 copies of Sternglass’ book had managed to leave the warehouse. Although the copies were selling
well, in less than one year the book was no longer available from the publisher. A few months later, the same thing
occurred with this book in England. The publisher was forced out of business and the books were confiscated by court
order. "I tried to buy them back," Sternglass said, "but they were ‘unavailable.’
"A very terrible form of censorship has been instituted in the U.S. with regard to the biological effects of nuclear
weapons and reactors," said Sternglass. "It appears that all efforts are being taken to prevent situations from arising that
would be too upsetting to industry and the military. The tragedy is that the people are being lied to. Secrecy has been
used to promote this whole technology. As we know this is not anything new. We’ve already been through Watergate,
FBI, CIA. . . "
Considering the enormous investment in nuclear technology, it’s not surprising that there is an attempt to minimize the
danger involved, even if to a ridiculous level. The total capital investment, projected ‘til the end of this century, is 600
billion dollars — one billion per reactor for 600 reactors — plus 50 to 60 billion in research, plus another 500 to 600
billion in estimated sales of electricity.
"After this enormous investment," Sternglass said, "who wants to see his life’s work go down the drain? Who wants to
see all these hundreds of billions of dollars go down the drain? It’s infinitely easier to remove DDT from the market
than it is to remove plutonium.
"Under pressure from industry, the White House and the military," Sternglass said, "the AEC recently raised the
maximum dosage to 5 millirads per reactor. So, if you live near a site that has 5 to 10 reactors, they could give you 25 to
50 millirads, legally, with a 25 to 50 percent increase in risk of leukemia and cancer."
In addition to the legal dose, there are also doctored reports of emissions and "accidental" leakages that just pass by
unnoticed. Leakage can occur from malfunction of equipment, loose valves, or corrosion, which causes pinholes and
cracks to develop in the fuel elements. Radioactive material also escapes in steam, through faulty valves in tanks
containing radioactive gases, or while fuel rods are being changed. "Human error, greed, inability to anticipate
emergencies are responsible for the malfunctions of nuclear reactors," Sternglass said. "Since radioactivity cannot be
easily detected, the damage is done before anyone is even aware of it. Then five to ten years later, the children die of
cancer and leukemia." In January 1973 Sternglass finished his paper, "The Significance of Radioactive Monitoring
Results for the Shippingport Reactor," in which he made the following observations:
— The dose of strontium-90 to the resident population represented 56 percent of the permitted average of 170 millirads.
— Official EPA reports claimed doses from gaseous release were "less than 0.001 percent of permissible," or 0.0017
millirads per year with "0" gaseous release.
— Aliquippa reached the highest mortality rates for diseases of early infants in 1970, as listed in the Annual Vital
Statistics of Pennsylvania.
In conclusion: "The seriousness of these findings put into serious question the adequacy of existing release monitoring
techniques and the competence or integrity of the individuals responsible for the safe operation of the Shippingport
"In the reports to Governor Shapp, never fully presented to the public," he said, "it is evident that Duquesne Light’s
own measurements show that there was radioactivity all over the place — in the milk, soil, fish, water, air. . . They
denied everything. They later said that computer error had produced the results."
As for the EPA hearings: "We have no assurance at all about the result, which may not come out for another half a year
or longer. Then, that may be followed by legal battles and Congressional hearings. I certainly hope so. The six
examiners, however, did not discover any obvious flaws in the thirty publications by researchers from all over the world
that I presented."
"I think it’s most important to stress that we can do something. We can turn the tide around," Sternglass said. Primarily
he recommended switching over to alternate sources of power — clean coal burning, solar, geothermal, wind, and ocean
current, for examples. "We simply never invested the necessary capital into research in these areas."
But apart from these means, one can combat radioactivity’s effect through diet. "Certain natural radiation-protective
chemicals," said Sternglass, "such as alcohol and vitamins — Vitamin E and other antioxidants, tend to prevent damage
from the oxidation process begun in the cell by radiation."
"The best news I received this month was subsequent data from the Japanese Cancer Society, which shows that cancer
rates have begun to decline considerably. This is only a beginning, but it is an optimistic one."
By Karan Rekasie (Henley Haugh, Ph. D.)
Published in Pittsburgh’s The New Sun — 3rd largest at the time.
Published shortly before Dr. Sternglass’ farewell from the physics research labs
at the University of Pittsburgh, shortly before THREE MILE ISLAND . . .
"The real danger is in the subtle deterioration of the quality of the human mind."
[Dr. Sternglass/See p. 3, paragraph 10.]
Amazingly, Karan and her husband Robert later moved to the area where the
nuclear plant had been scheduled to be built, but it had not been built.