Tag Archives: International Agency for Research on Cancer

Nuking Tahiti: the Moruroa Files

From 1966 to 1974, France blew up 41 nuclear weapons in above-ground tests in French Polynesia, the collection of 118 islands and atolls that is part of France. The French government has long contended that the testing was done safely. But a new analysis of hundreds of documents declassified in 2013 suggests the tests exposed 90% of the 125,000 people living in French Polynesia to radioactive fallout—roughly 10

The findings come from a 2-year collaboration, dubbed the Moruroa Files, between Disclose, a French nonprofit that supports investigative journalism; Interprt, a collective of researchers, architects, and spatial designers affiliated with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology who focus on environmental issues; and the Science & Global Security program at Princeton. The findings were presented on 9 March on the project’s website, in a book, and in a technical paper posted to the arXiv preprint server.

The abandoned testing facility at the Moruroa Atoll. The atoll is at the risk of collapsing due to nuclear blasts

Declassified documents suggest actual exposures were between two and 20 times higher than France’s Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) estimates… Reasons for the discrepancies vary from test to test, he says. For example, CEA acknowledged that the first test, dubbed Aldébaran, exposed residents of the Gambier Islands to relatively high levels of fallout. But actual exposures were likely higher still… Although CEA noted that contaminated rainwater fell on the island, he says, it failed to consider that many residents likely drank the contaminated water, collected in household cisterns, for days.

Most important, the documents suggest a single test in 1974, called Centaure, exposed the entire population of Tahiti—87,500 people at the time—to fallout. French authorities set off a relatively tiny atom bomb with an explosive yield equal to 4 kilotons of TNT, and weather forecasts predicted that winds should carry fallout to the north. Instead, the wind blew to the west, carrying the plume directly over Tahiti. A new simulation based on data in the documents shows how the plume of radiation wafted over the island. CEA estimated that people on the island received a dose of about 0.6 mSv.  However, Phillipe and colleagues argue that CEA underestimated the total amount of radiation that accumulated on the ground over several days, didn’t account for radiation lingering in vegetables consumed later…

The new analysis moves the vast majority of French Polynesians past the exposure threshold to qualify for compensation. Philippe and Schoenberger would like to see France do away with the exposure standard and compensate anyone who lived through the tests and developed a qualifying cancer. “Our hope is to demonstrate that this kind of threshold can be prejudicial to claimants just because of the difficulties of proving exposure,” Schoenberger says.

Philippe estimates that, assuming a cancer rate of 0.2% per year, roughly 10,000 cancer patients or their families would qualify retroactively and that compensating them would cost about €700 million. Future cancers would cost about €24 million per year, he estimates. However, Hughes says it remains to be seen whether the French government will even acknowledge the analysis. “My fear is that they will simply ignore it,” Hughes says.

The declassified documents also show the French government routinely failed to warn Polynesians about the radiation risks, Philippe says. In the Centaure test, authorities could have warned Tahitians about the approaching fallout 2 days in advance, but did not. Ironically, Philippe notes, the United States, the Soviet Union, and other countries were monitoring the tests remotely. “Everybody knew what was going on,” he says, “except the Polynesians.”

Excerpt from Adrian Cho, France grossly underestimated radioactive fallout from atom bomb tests, study finds, Science, Mar. 11, 2021

Herbicides: safer than table salt

It’s been a tough year for glyphosate, the world’s most popular weedkiller. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organization, declared that glyphosate—the key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup products—was probably carcinogenic to humans. In the months since, multiple lawsuits have been filed blaming the chemical for causing cancer and birth defects. In February, testing found traces of glyphosate in German beer and organic panty liners sold in France. Other tests have found chemical residue in British bread, as well as in the urine of people across Europe. In early March, the European Union put off a vote to renew a 15-year license for glyphosate after several member states balked.

Monsanto famously advertised Roundup, which was introduced in 1974, as safer than table salt. In 1996 the company stopped making the table salt claim after complaints from New York state….. In September 2016 state officials in California proposed adding the herbicide to a list of known carcinogens. The FDA said in February 2016 that it would begin testing for glyphosate residue in food in the U.S. The results aren’t yet available. The Environmental Protection Agency has been reviewing its use since 2009. The agency, which in 1985 temporarily classified glyphosate as “possibly carcinogenic,” was supposed to wrap up sometime last year; it now says a draft of its decision should be available for public comment sometime this year.

The herbicide industry has mounted an aggressive campaign to discredit the cancer finding and to convince regulators—and the public—that the herbicide should remain in use. …

Glyphosate works by blocking the production of certain amino acids that a plant needs to grow, and it’s nonselective, meaning it kills most plants. It began to dominate the herbicide market only after Monsanto genetically engineered crops to survive it, marketing them under its Roundup Ready brand. Global sales of glyphosate were about $7.8 billion in 2014, 30 percent of the herbicide market, according to Cropnosis, a market-research firm. Monsanto’s dominance of the glyphosate market has declined since the chemical went off patent in 2000. Some weeds have become resistant to glyphosate, triggering the need for other weedkillers. Nonetheless, Roundup remains the primary money-maker for Monsanto’s agricultural productivity segment, which brought in 32 percent of its revenue in fiscal 2015.

A rejection of glyphosate by either the U.S. or Europe would have “massive” ramifications on farming and food production, says Jason Miner, an analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence. “You could quickly take us two decades back in terms of farm yields,” he says. “The world doesn’t have capacity to produce all the alternatives.”

Monsanto’s Roundup Could Get Whacked by European Regulators, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Mar. 10, 2016