The Tooth Fairy Project may sound like child’s play, but it has a serious purpose: to find out how much radiation humans have been exposed to before and after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
A group called Standing for Truth About Radiation, headed by Miami Lakes, Fla., businessman David Friedson, is collecting baby teeth from several regions of the United States and abroad to be tested for radioactive strontium-90.
Strontium-90, a product of nuclear fission, is highly carcinogenic and when absorbed by the body concentrates in the teeth and bones where it stays for many years.
An analysis of the teeth will be used to determine whether fallout from Chernobyl in 1986 or leaks from nuclear plants in this country had an effect on health, said Dr. Jay M. Gould, a statistician and director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, based in New York.
Gould said the U.S. government no longer tracks such exposure levels.
“They used to test strontium-90 levels in milk and water from 1950 on, but they stopped doing that in 1991,” Gould said.
Gould, who was in South Florida Thursday night for a lecture on possible health effects of living near a nuclear power plant, wants as many baby teeth as he can get from South Florida, which has nuclear reactors.
He was presented with a collection of 35 baby teeth Thursday night, cataloged with information such as the mother’s age at the birth of the child, the age of the child when the tooth came out, and the mother’s location when she was pregnant
Many of the teeth were contributed by students at the Bay Harbor Elementary School in North Dade, Fla., who volunteered to help with the project.
STAR also has collected teeth from other countries, including Ireland, and from states such as the Dakotas and Wyoming, which are far from any nuclear facilities.
“We’ve done a lot of epidemiological work that shows (Chernobyl) had a profound effect (in Florida and the U.S.) too, particularly in birth weights under 5.5 pounds, and in immunity,” he said.
Wind patterns and rainfall likely deposited some of Chernobyl’s fall-out on South Florida, as well as other parts of the country, he said.
Tests already done on baby teeth in Germany showed a tenfold increase in the amount of strontium-90 in the teeth of children born after Chernobyl, compared with children born a few years before the nuclear disaster, he said.
Some of Gould’s research, based on 40 years of statistics from the National Cancer Institute, shows a correlation between living within 50 to 100 miles of a nuclear reactor and death rates from cancer. Four reactors in South Florida, in Dade and St Lucie counties, were part of Gould’s study of 60 reactor sites in the United States.
Gould detailed his findings in a book, “The Enemy Within - The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors,” published in 1996 by Four Walls Eight Windows publishing.
Using the data from the National Cancer Institute, Gould’s analysis showed that white women living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant had a greater risk of dying from breast cancer than women who did not live near a nuclear facility.
According to Gould’s analysis, the death rate from breast cancer in Miami-Dade rose from 20.1 per 100,000 women in 1950-54 to 24 in 1980-84, and 23.3 in 1985-89. That compares with statewide figures: 18.3 in the ‘50s and 23.3 in the late ‘80s statewide.
In St. Lucie County, the change was more dramatic, rising from 6.5 in the ‘50s to 23.5 in the late ‘80s.
Gould said the numbers are not proof that nuclear power plants contribute to cancer, but if the baby teeth contain strontium-90, that would show that people are being exposed. He said his analysis has drawn both praise and criticism.
Gould acknowledged that his work is controversial, but he stands by his findings. However, he said that epidemiological studies - simply looking at death rates in a particular area - do not prove what caused the deaths.
Even if the baby teeth prove that humans are being exposed to nuclear radiation, that may still only be part of the environmental assaults that contribute to cancer and other diseases, he said.
“That would be clinical proof that radiation is part of the problem, but there are other problems, too, such as pesticides and chemical pollutants,” Gould said. “It may be a combination of factors.”
xxxx FOR MORE INFORMATION For more information, or to donate baby teeth, contact: Radiation and Public Health Project, P.O. Box 60, Unionville, N.Y., 10988, or call Jerry Brown, national coordinator for STAR, at 305-532-5565.