Last month, NBC and a number of other corporate news sites reported on cluster of extremely rare and severe birth defects in Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties in Washington State. The reports stated there have been over two dozen cases of anencephaly (a condition which blocks the development of parts of the brain and skull) and spina bifida (a related condition in which the neural tube fails to close properly). The national average rate of anencephaly is 2.1 per 10,000. In Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties between 2010 and 2013 the average was 8.4 per 10,000.
In the NBC coverage of the story, the reporter quoted CDC health scientist Jim Kucik, who claimed “A group of birth defects can appear to be related, when it’s actually just coincidence”. Other possibilities mentioned in the article included: lack of folic acid, complications related to obesity and diabetes, and exposure to fumonisins, grain molds and/or pesticides. Surprisingly, and suspiciously (especially for NBC which is partly owned by GE, a nuclear power manufacturer), there was no mention made of the fact that anencephaly was one of the most common birth defects among the offspring of radiation-poisoned survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosions (see: Radiation Effects Research Foundation), and that the Yakima-Benton-Franklin Tri-Cities area happens to be near the Hanford Nuclear Plant.
In 2012 it was revealed that a giant double-walled storage tank containing radioactive materials was leaking. Exactly how much radioactive waste was released into the environment and for how long was never clarified. A more recent AP article analyzed (possibly leaked) new documents that showed “…subsequent surveys of the other double-walled tanks performed for the U.S. Department of Energy by one of its Hanford contractors found at least six shared defects with the leaking tank that could lead to future leaks”. Similar concerns about the storage of nuclear waste and the threat of leaks arose last month in New Mexico when 17 workers at an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico were exposed to radiation. But the situation at Hanford is particularly serious because it stores about two-thirds of the nation’s high-level radioactive waste. Authorities are so concerned about information about its dangers getting out, at least two Hanford whistleblowers have recently been fired.
If the birth defects are in fact a result of radioactive groundwater contamination from Hanford, it wouldn’t be the first time residents living near the plant have been poisoned. In December of 1949 they were exposed to between 7,000 and 12,000 curies of airborne iodine-131 during Operation Green Run (see: Toxipedia.org). The result was numerous cases of down-winder residents being afflicted with thyroid disorders, many of whom shared their experiences through public comment letters to the CDC for a thyroid disease study in 1999.