Skip to main content

Real Science Refutes the "Tooth Fairy"

This weekend on CNN, we expect the network to air a report on the "Tooth Fairy" project -- an attempt by New Jersey-based activist Joseph Mangano to demonstrate a link between Strontium 90 (Sr-90), nuclear plants and childhood cancer by analyzing the levels of Sr-90 found in baby teeth.

But despite the fact that there isn't any scientific evidence to back up his claims, they keep resurfacing like that proverbial bad penny.

The nuclear industry has been debunking this story for years now, most recently in New Jersey, where Mangano testified before the the New Jersey Commission on Radiation Protection in connection with license extension application that is expected to be filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant on New Jersey's eastern shore.

NEI Executive Vice President Angie Howard was interviewed for the segment, where she explained that Sr-90, which has a half-life of 28 years, exists in the environment primarily due to aboveground nuclear weapons testing once undertaken by the U.S. and other countries. Further, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been monitoring for Sr-90 and other isotopes for years -- even before nuclear power plants began operating, in order to establish baseline data against which future radiation levels could be compared.

Consistently, the NRC has found no appreciable changes from background radiation near nuclear plants. In all, eight state departments of health have investigated Mangano's claims, and all eight states (Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan) refused to validate them.

Here's what the New Jersey Commission on Radiation Protection reported to then-Gov. Jim McGreevey about one of Mangano's studies back in February 2004:

The Commission is of the opinion that "Radioactive Strontium-90 in Baby Teeth of New Jersey Children and the Link with Cancer: A Special Report," is a flawed report, with substantial errors in methodology and invalid statistics. As a result, any information gathered through this project would not stand up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. There is also no evidence to support the allegation that the State of New Jersey has a problem with the release of Sr-90 into the environment from nuclear generating plants: more than 30 years of environmental monitoring data refute this.


For more background on the "Tooth Fairy" Project, click here for a summary of the issue, and here for a copy of the NEI fact sheet.

Comments

Ben Whitmore said…
Hi
You say "the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been monitoring for Sr-90 and other isotopes for years [...] Consistently, the NRC has found no appreciable changes from background radiation near nuclear plants."
You seem to be talking about two different things here: levels of Sr-90 (and other isotopes) on the one hand, and levels of background radiation on the other. You don't actually tell us whether levels of Sr-90 in the environment have increased over the years or not; and increases in Sr-90 significant enough to be detected in children's teeth might not cause any appreciable increase in background radiation.

You must remember, there are well-known mechanisms of biological amplification whereby certain heavy isotopes become concentrated, especially through the food chain; amounts that seem negligible, especially when measured from a distance as 'background radiation' can become more significant after concentration and when measured at close range.

Furthermore, what you seem to be saying is that measures of background radiation somehow falsify this fellow's research. But that presupposes a whole load of assumptions about how strontium might be distributed and propagated, what levels are significant, and the reliability of environmental testing. If he has truly found a statistically significant increase in Sr in teeth, then surely that's a more concrete piece of evidence than all those rather nebulous assumptions. Surely the only scientifically sound way to falsify his research is to repeat his test, and ascertain whether Sr levels in teeth truly have risen or not. If they have, then you have the task of trying to figure out why.

This test is presumably relatively simple and inexpensive to run (much cheaper than environmental testing), so until someone does so and manages to falsify his results, I have very little faith in his critics.

Perhaps someone has already done this, in which case please forgive me -- and it would be great to add a citation of this to your post. As it is, you have not cited any such repeat experiment. If, on the other hand, there has been no repeat experiment, it rather begs the question of why: is this something the nuclear industry would prefer not to know?
Ben Whitmore said…
Oh, I should note that Mongano's more recent attempt to correlate increased deaths with Fukushima radiation does seem statistically insane from what I've read so far, so I'm not saying he's necessarily right about the 'tooth fairy' study either -- I just don't think your 'refutation' is a proper refutation.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.


Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …