Tooth Fairy Project



Making of the Atomic Bomb

, author Richard Rhodes details plans
by Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, and Robert Oppenheimer in the spring
of 1943 to use “radioactive materials bred in a nuclear reactor
as a weapon of war.” 

idea was to poison the German food supply and the three fathers
of the A-Bomb were thinking radioactive strontium “appears
to have the greatest promise” to realize their goal. Oppenheimer
wrote, “We should not attempt a plan unless we can poison food
sufficient to kill a half a million men.” 

strontium does not exist in nature. It only comes to be through
human induced nuclear fission. Like calcium, radioactive strontium
entering the human body will concentrate in bones and teeth. Strontium
90 (Sr-90) has a radioactive life of nearly 300 years. 

recent study by the New York City-based Radiation and Public Health
Project found that, over the past two decades, Strontium-90 has
found its way into baby teeth, most likely through air, water, and
food poisoned by the nation’s commercial nuclear power reactors. 

study reported that Sr-90 was present in higher concentrations in
baby teeth from kids born close to six nuclear power stations. The
study, “An unexpected rise in strontium-90 in U.S. deciduous
teeth in the 1990s,” appeared in the

Science of the Total

(December 20, 2003). Deciduous teeth are commonly
known as baby teeth. 

Radioactive and Public Health Project (RPHP) has been carrying out
its Tooth Fairy Project since 1996. The group collects baby teeth
and tests them for the presence of Strontium-90, following up on
work done in the 1960s that found rising amounts of this highly
dangerous radioactive chemical in milk subsequent to above-ground
explosions of increasingly more powerful nuclear weapons. 

such as Linus Pauling, and concerned mothers, organized a public
campaign against this worldwide contamination that led to the Test
Ban Treaty of 1964. The RPHP reported that two federal government
studies of human bones found “a dramatic decline in the mid
and late 1990s”—after the atmospheric bomb tests stopped—of
Sr-90 in the bones compared to earlier years. A baby teeth study
in St. Louis found a similar decline during that same time period. 

its current study the RPHP tested 2,089 baby teeth. Most of the
teeth were from children born in the 1980s and 1990s, though some
were from as far back as 1954. The majority of the teeth were from
five states: California, Florida, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania.
This was in great part because a few years ago the RPHP, with the
assistance of actor Alec Baldwin, “sent out nearly 100,000
letters appealing for tooth donations to families with children
age 6-17,” according to the RPHP. These letters went out to
California, Florida, and New York, with Baldwin’s financial

most dramatic and unexpected finding in this report,” the RPHP
stated, “is the reversal after the late 1980s declines in average
Sr-90 concentration. We observed a 48.5 percent higher concentration
in 1994-1997 births over 1986-1989 births…a trend consistent
for each of the five states, and counties in these states near nuclear
reactors included in this study.”

experts (except perhaps those employed by the nuclear establishment)
agree that Sr-90 from atmospheric bomb testing present in the environment
had decayed to negligible levels by about 1980. Why then the dramatic
increase found in the RPHP study? 

authors looked at seven other possible sources of Sr-90 in the U.S.:

  • the
    1986 Chernobyl disaster 

  • high level nuclear

  • academic reactors 

  • nuclear subs 

  • nuclear weapons

  • below ground
    nuclear weapons tests 

  • reprocessing
    nuclear fuel 

concluded that radioactive pollution from these sources either was
negligible or had ceased too long ago to provide an explanation. 

only other source of Sr-90,” the study’s authors asserted,
“that can explain this steady dramatic rise in the 1990s is
emissions from nuclear power reactors.” The authors noted that
electrical generation by U.S. commercial nuclear plants rose 37.5
percent from 1986-1989 compared to 1994-1997, according to a 2001
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission report. 

study’s second major finding “is that counties located
within 40 miles of each of six nuclear reactors have consistently
higher Sr-90 levels than other counties in the same state.”
For example, baby teeth tested from Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester
counties in New York—near the notorious Indian Point nukes
—had concentrations of Sr-90 35.8 percent higher than teeth
tested from the rest of the state. The statistical probability of
this being due to random chance is 1 in 1,000, according to RPHP

kids’ teeth in the three south Florida counties of Indian River,
Martin, and St. Lucie, located near the St. Lucie reactors, showed
levels of Sr-90 53.8 percent higher than teeth from the rest of
the Sunshine State. 

third major finding,” the RPHP reported “is that Sr-90
concentrations vary geographically. Children from Pennsylvania (most
near Potts- town, close to Philadelphia) who donated teeth had the
highest average Sr-90 of the five states studied. Pottstown lies
within 70 miles of 11 operating (and 2 closed) reactors, a concentration
unmatched in the U.S. California, especially areas not close to
nuclear reactors, is the state with the lowest average Sr-90. There
are only four nuclear reactors on the entire west coast in operation
since 1992, compared to dozens in the northeast.” 

study’s authors concluded, “At present (pending more detailed
study), nuclear power reactors appear to be the most likely source
explaining the recent unexpected rise in Sr-90 concentrations, and
elevated Sr-90 levels nearest the plants.” 

Licenses To Kill 


scientific activists at the Radiation and Public Health Project
have produced dozens of studies demonstrating the link between “low
level radiation” and human diseases. Dr. Ernest Sternglass’s
1981 book,

Fallout: From Hiroshima To Three Mile Island

, was a pioneering
work in this field. His future RPHP collaborator, Dr. Jay Gould,
followed up on this work with 1990’s

Deadly Deceit: Low-Level
Radiation, High Level Coverup

, and 1996’s

The Enemy
Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors

. In the
latter book, Gould and Sternglass, along with RPHP members Joseph
Mangano and William McDonnell, demonstrate through exhaustive epidemiological
studies that U.S. women living within 50 miles of nuclear reactors
had statistically significant higher rates of breast cancer mortality. 

more recent years the RPHP has moved from epidemiological to clinical
studies, focusing its work on the Tooth Fairy Project. Other studies
are showing that childhood cancer incidence rates are higher near
nuclear plants and that these rates—like the concentration
of Sr-90 in baby teeth from children born near nukes—are on
the rise. 

example, in a February 2000 paper in the

Archives of Environmental

(“Elevated childhood cancer incidence proximate
to U.S. nuclear power plants”), Mangano, RPHP colleague Janet
Sherman, and four others reported “cancer incidence for children
less than 10 years of age who live within 30 miles of each of 14
nuclear plants in the U.S.…exceeds the national average by
12.4 percent. The 12.4 percent risk suggests that 1 in 9 cancers
among children who reside near nuclear reactors is linked to radioactive
emissions…. Incidence is particularly elevated for leukemia.” 

study follows an earlier one by the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention’s SEER program that found “from 1998 to
2000, cancer incidence in children less than 15 years was 14.83
per 100,000, the highest since the SEER program was formed in 1973,”
the RPRP study reported. “From 1975 to 2000 cancer rates in
children rose 31.7 percent for all types of cancers, and 36.9 percent
and 49.6 percent, respectively, for leukemia and brain/other cancers,
which make up over half of childhood malignancies.” SEER is
the CDC’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program.
The SEER program, the RPHP reported, “collects data in 5 states
and 4 other metropolitan areas with established tumor registries,
covering about 1/10 of the U.S. population.” 

RPHP study found, “Incidence for total cancers for children
under 5 years during 1988 to 1997 was higher than the SEER rate
near all 14 nuclear plants in our study.” In addition, the
study determined “Cancer in children 5-9 for 1988 to 1997 exceeded
the SEER rate for 13 of the 14 cases.” In comparing counties
near nuclear plants with remaining counties in the state and adjoining
states, “For each of the 6 states and combinations of states,
cancer incidence for those 0-9 years in the counties near reactors
was higher than in other counties in the state.”

study cites a 2000 RPHP study that found “a link between trends
in concentrations of [SR-90] and childhood cancer in Suffolk County,
New York (Gould et al, “Strontium-90 in deciduous teeth as
a factor in early childhood cancer,”

International Journal
of Health Services

, 2000).” 

14 nuclear power plants (comprising 23 nuclear reactors) cited in
the 2003 study are: 

  • Brookhaven
    (a federal nuclear laboratory) and Indian Point in New York  

  • Beaver Valley,
    Limerick, Peach Bottom, Susquehanna, and Three Mile Island in


  • Crystal River,
    St. Lucie, and Turkey Point in Florida 

  • Millstone in

  • Hope Creek in

  • Oyster Creek
    and Salem in New Jersey 

  • Seabrook in
    New Hampshire 

  • [Peach Bottom
    and TMI nukes, as well as the two New Jersey nukes were counted
    as one because of their proximity] 

the RHP has been carrying out this important work—and generating
attention from the

New York Times



A Today

and National Public Radio, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
has been busy rubberstamping 20-year license renewals for old dirty
nuclear plants across the nation, including some of those named

commercial nuclear plants were initially licensed to operate for
40 years by the NRC and its predecessor, the discredited Atomic
Energy Commission. None of these nukes has been able to operate
that long thus far. 

NRC has already granted 20-year license renewals for 12 nuclear
plants comprising 23 nuclear reactors. The first went to Calvert
Cliffs on Chesapeake Bay in March 2000. Another 10 nuke plants comprising
17 reactors have license renewals under review (the review usually
takes about two years). 

more nuke plants comprising at least 27 reactors are planning further
applications through 2008. Of these 21 future applications, 5 are
listed as “Not Publicly Announced,” and 3 as “Entergy
Plant.” New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation owns 8 nuclear
plants, including the Indian Point 2 and 3 reactors, located less
than 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan. Community opposition to
the continued operation of Indian Point has grown fierce since the
9-11 attacks exposed them as high security risks. Twenty million
people live within 20 miles of the reactors. 

these license renewal actions comprise at least 67 commercial nuclear
reactors, about two- thirds of the 103 currently operating. 

far the NRC has approved every single license renewal application.
After the owners of the infamous Millstone nukes in southeastern
Connecticut filed their license renewal application on January 22,
2004, the NRC’s Neil Sheehan said of its two reactors, ages
29 and 18, “There’s no reason they can’t last 60
years,” and of course asserted the process “isn’t
a rubberstamp.” Dominion Resources of Virginia, Millstone’s
owner, is asking the NRC to extend Millstone 2 and 3’s operating
licenses to 2035 and 2046, respectively. 

of another catastrophic nuclear accident, if this is to change,
it will only come about through the combined efforts of scientific
activists like those of the Radiation and Public Health Project
along with concerned citizens and community activists. The poisoning
of children will only begin to stop when the nukes do.

Michael Steinberg
is a veteran activist and writer. He is the author of

and Me: Sex, Lies and Radiation in Southeastern Connecticut