National Academies Press: OpenBook

Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test (1996)

Chapter:Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure

« Previous: Study Rationale and Overview
Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×

2
Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure

Human physical health effects of radiation fall along a continuum that includes immediate death, shortened lifespan due to radiogenic cancers such as leukemia, increased morbidity due to radiogenic conditions such as cataracts or nonfatal cancers, no discernible effect, and, in the view of some, beneficial physiologic response. U.S. military personnel exposed to nuclear weapons tests did not receive radiation in amounts that would be immediately lethal. The questions we addressed in this mortality study of atomic veterans concern the long-lasting, difficult-to-prove effects of lower levels of radiation that can result in increased incidence of cancer. This study looks specifically at exposed veterans. Other studies, not reviewed here (NRC 1990, UNSCEAR 1994, Shigematsu et al. 1995), have examined associations of radiation and health outcomes in groups defined by widely varying sources of radiation (for example, occupational, environmental, medical, and acts of war).

Reports from individual veterans and advocacy groups brought to attention concerns about mortality and long-term morbidity believed to be caused by the radiation exposures received during nuclear weapons testing. The leadership of the National Association of Atomic Veterans (NAAV) and Trinity Post 7–45 have collected data and testified passionately about such increased illness. The NAAV Medical Survey Data Base (see Appendix A) had information (as of 28 January 1995) on 167 deaths among the 1,263 Operation CROSSROADS participants known to NAAV. Of the 379 death certificates NAAV gathered from participants in any U.S. nuclear test (not only CROSSROADS), about 75

Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×

percent are from cancer (Campbell 1994). That appears unusually high, since national data show malignant neoplasms accounting for about 30 percent of male deaths in each 10-year age span covering deaths between ages 45 and 74. About 13 percent of years of potential life lost before age 65 is attributed to cancer deaths (NCHS 1992).

In 1976, following notice of a patient who associated his acute myelocytic leukemia with his presence at an atmospheric nuclear test, the Centers for Disease Control mounted an epidemiological study of military personnel who had attended that test—Shot SMOKY, a detonation of Operation PLUMBBOB—conducted at the Nevada test site in August 1957 (Caldwell et al. 1980, 1983). Findings of increased leukemias among participants generated concern that their health may have been adversely affected by participation in the atmospheric testing program. An extensive study of participants at five test series (chosen to represent a range of testing circumstances) was conducted by the Medical Follow-up Agency of the National Academy of Sciences (now within the Institute of Medicine) to pursue that hypothesis (Robinette et al. 1985). In 1989, the Defense Nuclear Agency informed MFUA that the data DNA had provided—and on which all MFUA analyses were based—incorrectly identified members of the participant cohort. DNA's initial estimate of the error was larger but, after detailed review, the congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) estimated that approximately 15,000 names should have been but were not on the participant roster and another approximately 4,500 were wrongly included on the participant list (Gelband 1992). The total number of participants in that 1985 study was 49,148. MFUA (with support and concurrence from the OTA, the General Accounting Office, and congressional and Department of Defense staff) decided that the published study results (Robinette et al. 1985) should be withdrawn from discussion pending reexamination of the data and correction for possibly substantial errors in participant group identification. At the request of DNA, MFUA is redoing the Five Series Study with the more complete data. Results from the newer study are not expected before the end of 1997.

Other formal epidemiologic studies have not revealed distributions of rates that clearly confirm or refute radiation-caused mortality and long-term morbidity. Watanabe et al. (1995) compared military participants at Hardtack I, a 1958 U.S. test series in the Pacific, with a military comparison group. All-cause mortality (relative risk 1.10; 95% confidence interval 1.02–1.19) and digestive cancer mortality (RR 1.47; 1.06–2.04) mortality was higher among the Hardtack participants, but excess rates were not observed in deaths from all cancers, leukemia, or other hypothesized radiogenic cancers. The authors described the patterns of increased (and decreased) rates, but stopped short by neither concluding there were increased risks nor ruling them out.

Darby et al. (1993) studied mortality and cancer incidence in military participants of United Kingdom nuclear weapons tests and found no "detectable

Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×

effect on expectation of life or on subsequent risk of developing cancer or other fatal diseases." Although participants had significantly higher leukemia rates than controls, the authors attribute that to an abnormally low rate among the controls rather than to a radiation-associated high rate among the participants. That both the control and the participant groups had fewer cancers than expected based on general U.K. population rates (even after controlling for social class) is presented to support that interpretation. The standardized mortality ratio (standardized to the U.K. population) for leukemias in the control groups was 0.56 for the entire follow-up period and 0.34 for the time period 2 to 25 years postexposure.

The results of this study of CROSSROADS participants and the earlier mentioned Five Series Study simultaneously under way should add more information about, and therefore a more stable understanding of, the association between nuclear test participant exposure and mortality. These studies are constructed carefully to include appropriate comparison groups and to avoid known biases (operational as well as conceptual) in the data collection and analysis, and, finally, in their interpretation.

Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×
Page8
Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×
Page9
Suggested Citation:"Other Studies of the Human Health Effects of Radiation Exposure." Institute of Medicine. 1996. Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/5428.
×
Page10
Next: Epidemiology Primer »
Mortality of Veteran Participants in the CROSSROADS Nuclear Test Get This Book
×
Buy Paperback | $40.00 Buy Ebook | $32.99
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

In 1946, approximately 40,000 U.S. military personnel participated in Operation CROSSROADS, an atmospheric nuclear test that took place at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Congress passed a law directing the Veterans Administration to determine whether there were any long-term adverse health effects associated with exposure to ionizing radiation from the detonation of nuclear devices. This book contains the results of an extensive epidemiological study of the mortality of participants compared with a similar group of nonparticipants. Topics of discussion include a breakdown of the study rationale; an overview of other studies of veteran participants in nuclear tests; and descriptions of Operation CROSSROADS, data sources for the study, participant and comparison cohorts, exposure details, mortality ascertainment, and findings and conclusions.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook, NAP.edu's online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    Switch between the Original Pages, where you can read the report as it appeared in print, and Text Pages for the web version, where you can highlight and search the text.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  9. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!