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CDC Offers $1.5 Million for Thyroid Study

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is offering $1.5 million for the next phase of a thyroid study involving people who lived downwind from nuclear weapons testing.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is offering $1.5 million for the next phase of a thyroid study involving people who lived downwind from nuclear weapons testing.

Southeastern Nevada, southwestern Utah and northwestern Arizona all were hit by radioactive fallout from the aboveground testing in Nevada from 1951 through 1962. A University of Utah team has kept the program going for years after the federal government lost interest.

Study manager Mary Bishop Stone said participants are eager to continue the work that federal investigators began nearly 40 years ago. "They tell us they are glad someone is addressing the concern they have had all these years," she said.

For decades, there has been debate over how the more than 900 atomic tests affected downwind residents. Past studies produced conflicting conclusions as to whether the fallout caused increased numbers of cases of particular types of cancer.

The first phase of the thyroid study began in the 1960s and ended with the federal researchers concluding that fallout had not increased disease among 4,818 people living in Washington County, Utah, and Lincoln County, Nev., with residents of Graham County, Ariz., used as a control group.

In the mid-1980s, University of Utah researchers tracked down 3,122 of the original subjects and found that exposure to fallout led to a higher-than-usual incidence of thyroid tumors.

To complete its study, the research team wants to conduct in-depth thyroid examinations of about 2,000 of the original study participants.

The team has reanalyzed the past data and has started in-depth examinations of 500 study participants at clinics in St. George, Phoenix and Safford, Ariz. The researchers say that to complete the study, they will need about $800,000 more than the CDC has promised.

The exams involve feeling the thyroid for abnormalities and drawing blood for hormone analysis, as well as ultrasounds.

Preston Truman, of the advocacy group Downwinders, applauded the decision to resume funding of the study.

"This new round would let them examine us now some 50 years after we were exposed to the heavy original fallout and to see what the effects would be over that segment of time from when we were checked last in the 1980s," said Truman, who became a study subject as a seventh-grader. He said it will be important to compare the U.S. results with those from studies of fallout in Chernobyl and Kazakhstan.