Sunday, May 8, 2016

Radiation Myths Harming Public Health

Radiation Myths Harming Public Health by Jay Lehr, February 24, 2010

I was recently invited to lunch by the editors of Newsweek magazine in New York City to discuss with them my views on what should be included in their next special issue on the nation's environmental priorities.

They were quite shocked when I told them that one of my top three, just behind applying DDT to stamp out malaria and improving drinking water supplies for impoverished nations, was reducing the unwarranted fear of low-level radiation that grips most of the world's population.

I was determined to call this issue to Newsweek's attention, because I had recently read Ed Hiserodt's new book, Underexposed. I cannot recommend this book too strongly, nor can I praise it articulately enough.

Identifies False Theory

Let us first examine the Linear No-Threshold (LNT) theory, by which we have been held hostage for so long.

To take it to an absurd extreme so you will easily understand it, the theory basically says that if 100 percent of a given population will die from a fall from a 100 foot cliff, and 50 percent would die when falling from a height of 50 feet, then we can expect that one person of a hundred would die when falling from a height of one foot.

Silly as this seems, we use the same theory when studying the effects of chemicals and heavy metal intake by humans. Substances such as mercury, lead, tin, cadmium, oxygen, fluorine, arsenic, and selenium are toxic in large quantities, yet critical to our health in small quantities.

We call the phenomenon of harm at high doses and help at low doses "hormesis," derived from the Greek word "hormo," which means to excite. Thus, a substance that excites a positive bodily response at a low dose and is harmful at high doses is considered hormetic. Vitamins and trace minerals clearly show the difference a dose makes. The same is true of sunlight, noise and stress.

Radiation Fears Unwarranted

A common measure of nuclear radiation is the millirem, or mrem. The average background radiation in the United States is 300 mrem per year, though higher at altitudes well above sea level, like Denver.

Low-level radiation is a "green issue." The media tends not to criticize their green friends who oppose any and all forms of radiation. Indeed, if low levels of radiation are realized to be benign, then there goes a central argument of anti-nuclear activists.

There is in fact no scientifically credible evidence that low-level radiation is harmful, yet there is substantial evidence that it actually inoculates the body to resist the negative effects of future high doses. At the same time, low-dose radiation appears to have positive effects in increasing immune system competency.

Hiserodt informs us that if we want to avoid our natural annual background radiation, we would have to move to Antarctica or live underwater in a nuclear submarine. We could also encourage people to move from the high plains of Colorado - where the cancer rates are low - to states where background radiation is low, but cancer rates are high.

But of course we are not going to do any of these things, because if an increase in low-level radiation caused any problems at all we would have seen the evidence long ago, in the form of dead bodies. If low-level radiation harmed human health, Deadwood, Colorado (elevation 11,000 feet) would be well known for its citizens' short life spans, but that is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true.

According to Hiserodt, the only people who think there is any real danger from low-level radiation are the regulators, antinuclear activists, environmental zealots and government scientists who cling to the Linear No-Threshold hypothesis.

Background Radiation Cuts Cancer

Hiserodt recounts how Dr. Bernard Cohen proved conclusively that geographic areas with slightly elevated levels of naturally occurring radon have a reduced incidence of lung cancer. The first of Cohen's studies was published in 1990, and an even more comprehensive study was reported in 1995. The wealth of evidence rocked the scientific community, most of whom had never bothered to question the Linear No-Threshold model.

Hiserodt exhaustively describes the many mice studies showing conclusively that the LNT model is absurd and that mice actually benefit from low-level radiation. He then explains that similar exposure among humans proves the very same thing.

The greatest proof, worth repeating, lies among the citizens of Nagasaki and Hiroshima - who were exposed to low-level radiation and went on to experience longer and healthier life spans than Japanese living elsewhere.

Study after study of nuclear power plant workers further illustrate the enhanced health of those working in an environment of low-level radiation. The most inclusive study, which was intended to show negative impacts on our nuclear workforce, began at Johns Hopkins University in 1980 and was reported 15 years ago. It conclusively showed positive effects of low-level radiation on 72,356 workers.

Perhaps the most telling real-world evidence of the benefits of low-level radiation is how the uneven distribution of background radiation around the world parallels the variations in human cancer rates. The higher the natural background radiation, the lower the local cancer rates.

Hiserodt briefly but clearly describes nuclear reactors, saying, "The new designs are even safer than the old - but how do you get safer than no deaths, no injuries, and no negative effects to the public from several thousand reactor years of operation with thousands of gigawatt hours of life enhancing electrical energy having been generated?"

Wasting Money, Lives

The question of whether tiny amounts of radiation must be avoided, even at great cost, is neither abstract nor trivial. Hundreds of billions of dollars are targeted to remediate U.S. sites even though there is no scientific basis for claiming any health or other benefit from removing low-level radiation.

Worldwide, Hiserodt tells us, the cost of such remediation has been estimated at more than a trillion dollars. This is in addition to the unquantifiable cost of lives lost by fear and avoidance of mammograms, irradiated food, and other beneficial uses of radiation.

I cannot recommend Hiserodt's book too highly. It addresses a subject few understand, but thanks to this author's comprehensive research and clear writing ability, you are now within a few dollars and a few hours of grasping this important subject.

- Jay Lehr, Ph.D. ( is science director for The Heartland Institute

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Under-Exposed Book Review in the Journal of American Physicians & Surgeons

Under-Exposed: What if Radiation is Actually Good for You? by Ed Hiserodt, 247 pp, paperback, $14.95, ISBN 0930073355, Little Rock, Ark., Laissez-Faire Books, 2005.

The linear no-threshold (LNT) hypothesis for radiation carcinogenesis could be the costliest error in the history of science.

It was invented by Linus Pauling to win the debate with Edward Teller on banning atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, according to Pauling's long-time close collaborator Arthur B. Robinson (personal communication). It uses the concept of collective dose to calculate huge numbers of casualties from tiny exposures. By the same reasoning, if 1,000 aspirin tablets will kill one man who takes them all, one death will also occur as a result of 1,000 men each taking a single aspirin.

Hiserodt demolishes the LNT in his brief, lucid book. Though written for the lay public in a chatty, coloquial style, the technical exposition is solid and footnoted, and it will not insult the intelligence of physicians.

Radiation, like many (if not most) chemicals, exhibits a biphasic dose-response curve, also called hormesis. While high doses of radiation are lethal, doses within a certain low range have a nonspecific stimulatory effect on the organism, enhancing growth, immune response, or DNA repair mechanisms.

Hiserodt reviews the most important animal and human data, with clear charts and graphs showing findings that will astonish those indoctrinated in the belief that any dose of radiation is harmful.

Among A-bomb survivors, longevity was increased at low-to-intermediate doses (1-199 rads). Mortality in Americans weapons plant workers was significantly less than expected. Nuclear shipyard workers exposed to radiation had lower all-cause and cancer mortality than their non-exposed counterparts. The actual evidence is consistent and convincing, as long as one looks at the data itself, and not the conclusion that prestigious committees draw for the abstracts.

The Environmental Protection Agency's campaign to reduce indoor radon exposure is based primarily on data from uranium miners, who do indeed have a higher risk of lung cancer. However, the potential role of other factors present in uranium mines, such as particulates and fumes from diesel engines, was never considered. The cancers are deep in the lungs, like those of South African miners exposed to amphibole-type asbestos, rather than concentrated in the bronchial epithelium as would be expected.

A multimillion-dollar, 5-year effort to demonstrate the harm caused by radon levels in homes, however, showed a highly significant protective effect. Bernard Cohen wrote: "It came as a great shock to me that my data ran contrary to LNT, and I didn't fully believe it until about 1993 - when I shut off the $1,200 radon reduction system in my house to save electricity." But it didn't make the news, and bureaucrats and health physicists - who have a vested interest in overzealous radiation protection - appear to pretend that the data either don't exist, or can be explained away. If radon were recognized as "Vitamin R," a lot of regulators would be looking for another job.

While the LNT-predicted radiation casualties are purely hypothetical, the deaths caused by belief in the LNT assumption are tragically real. After the Chernobyl accident, between 100,000 and 200,000 babies were aborted in Europe because their mothers believe they might be carrying "nuclear monsters." The actual dose from Chernobyl was about 1.4 SXR in Greece, and 0.5 in France: the SXR being a Hiserodt-coined unit for the dose received from one "shoe x-ray" in the days when good shoe stores had a fluoroscope to check the fit of the shoes. One could also receive 1.4 SXR from residing in Colorado instead of Texas for about 19 months.

Hiserodt includes a fascinating discussion of benefits that we have forgone because of misunderstanding radiation: the plutonium-powered pacemaker that never needs a battery change; a car that could conceivably get 5 million miles to the pound of plutonium; and small, intrinsically safe nuclear power generating stations. Promising medical benefits blocked by the LNT include low-dose radiation for cancer prevention, and even treatment; potential cure of rapidly lethal infections such as gangrene; and relief of conditions such as arthritis.

Reasons to keep this book on the reference shelf include its clear explanation of dose units; its tables of exposures from sources such as power reactors, your own blood, or jet flight; the specific activities of dangerous substances like salad oil and whisky; and the table on the manifestations of acute radiation syndrome. Even if you don't need the chapter on remedial nuclear physics, you'll probably learn something about what goes on in a nuclear reactor.

This is a good book to give to nervous patients, students, teachers, physics-challenged reporters and public officials. But do keep one for yourself.

Jane M. Orient, M.D.
Tucson, AZ

Sunday, May 1, 2016


Over the past several years I have had occasion to attend seminars and conference where I was able to meet personally with many of those I have quoted. Without exception, they have taken time for my "dumb" questions and have encouraged me to help "create understanding" about hormesis and the invalidity of the LNT theory.

Don Luckey answered my questions for hours sitting in his den in Ft. Collins, Colorado. Bernie Cohen did the same in his office at the University of Pittsburgh. I met Myron Pollycove at a conference in Ottawa and had a long dinner with Ted Rockwell in Boston. We visited the Chalk River reactor facility at the invitation of Ron Mitchel. Ed Calabrese, the first director of the International Hormesis Society, welcomed me warmly to the Amherst symposium. All these men have doctorates in the hard sciences (Pollycove is an M.D.), and I must admit to being a bit intimidated when I first approached them. Their generous assistance has been appreciated more than they know.

I owe a special thanks to Massachusetts State Nuclear Engineer Jim Muckerheide. Jim - also the president of the non-profit organization Radiation, Science and Health - and his wife Linda, have provided more information for this book than anyone, with the exception of Dr. Luckey. Their support has been invaluable.

Others who were willing to read and make technical comments on the draft manuscript include Michael Gough (then of the Cato Institute), health physicist Paul Beck, pathologist M.G. Simpson, physics professor emeritus Howard Hayden, and my old friend Ed Gran of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock physics department. Lastly, William R. Hendee, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin - not known for his support of the hormesis thesis - gave me valuable insights.

In the nontechnical area, I am indebted to the late Irene Beckmann, my sister Martha Johnson, and Jane Jacob for reading early drafts and making helpful suggestions and corrections.

So many others were helpful along the way, and I have been so lax about recording their names. To all of them, my earnest thanks.

And finally, many thanks to Laissez Faire Books for its support on this project.