Wondering what was causing a decline in learning and reading abilities of young American students born in the 1950s, physicist Dr. Ernest Sternglass wondered if radioactive fallout from nuclear bomb testing was the culprit. A Professor of Radiology, specializing in radiological physics, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School, and Adjunct Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Indiana University, Bloomington, Sternglass began investigating his hypothesis.
Since fallout differed in intensity for different regions of the United States, he examined a study by Dr. Rex Jackson of the Educational Testing Service, which contained a detailed statistical breakdown of the scores by region since 1971.
Comparing the scores for the high school graduating classes of 1976 with those for 1974, during which the United States as a whole dropped 13 points in the verbal test, the West dropped 19 points compared to only 9 points for the Midwest and 14 points for the Middle Atlantic states.
No other region declined as much as the western United States, with its relatively clean air, clean water, and generally higher average socio-economic level.
By far the largest amount of radioactive fallout from the Pacific and Siberian tests had rained out over Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and California, where the coastal mountain ranges near the population centers of Seattle and Portland showed the highest amounts of strontium 90, cesium 137, and other radioactive substances in the milk and diet.
By far the greatest drop between 1974 and 1976 had occurred in the state with the highest levels of radio-iodine in the milk, namely Utah, and the smallest drop was recorded for the midwestern state of Ohio, largely to the south of the drifting clouds of fallout that had passed over Minnesota, Michigan, New York, southern Ontario Province in Canada and northern New England. The magnitude of the effect was difficult to believe – Utah had dropped 26 points and Ohio only 2.
He presented the findings with educational psychologist Dr. Steven Bell, at a meeting of the American Psychological Association in New York, while another scientific meeting took place in Baltimore devoted to the biological effects of ionizing radiation. At this meeting, Dr. Charlotte Silverman of the Bureau of Radiological Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services presented a paper entitled “Mental Function Following Scalp X-Irradiation for Tinea Capitatis in Childhood,” a condition more commonly known as ringworm of the scalp.
Dr. Silverman summarized the results of studies of two groups of children treated by means of X-rays, a method no longer used. One group of 2,215 children was followed at New York University Medical Center, and another group of 10,842 children at the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Israel was followed over a period of 20 to 25 years, together with matched groups of non-irradiated controls. Aside from an increase in the number of brain and thyroid tumors, there was also an excess of nervous, mental and behavioral problems in the irradiated groups. As Dr. Silverman reported, “The New York investigators found a higher incidence of treated psychiatric disorders among the irradiated which persisted during an observation time of about 30 years.”
For the Israeli group as originally reported by Drs. B. Modan and E. Ron at the Sixth International Congress of Radiation Research in Tokyo earlier that year, Dr. Silverman summarized the results as follows:
Several measures of brain function, mental ability and scholastic achievement demonstrate that the irradiated children suffered impairment. These findings are consistent with and extend previous findings of suggestive brain damage from radiation.
The doses to the thyroids of the children were listed as having been in the range of 6 to 9 rads, well below the doses of 10 to 60 rads received by the children of Utah from the fallout of the Nevada tests reported by Dr. C. W. Mays at the August 1963 Congressional Hearings for the children of Utah in 1962.
Sternglass concluded: “How long would it take before the damage that the governments deeply committed to nuclear technology for weapons and energy were continuing to inflict upon their own children would be ended?”
Adapted from “Secret Fallout: Low-Level Radiation from Hiroshima to Three Mile Island” by Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass. He died last year. His book is available as a free download – https://ratical.org/radiation/SecretFallout/index.html