Why Marin has the Highest Breast Cancer Rate in the United States
By Leuren Moret, Radioactive Times VOL. 6 NO. 2 March 2008


Fresh water has higher concentrations of radionuclides than seawater because there is a greater dilution factor in seawater, and salts in seawater control uptake of radionuclides. It is clear that dilution is not the solution to pollution. Dumping radioactive contaminated materials into bodies of water has a boomerang effect. It is not long before the radiation is washing back up on riverbanks and shorelines. In fact, in the first cancer mapping survey in history (1850-60) in the Lake District of Britain, Alfred Haviland reported that the highest cancer rates (from natural background radiation) were along riverbanks and shorelines providing a strong environmental link to cancer before manmade radiation was introduced into the environment after 1900.[1] Pre-1900 cancer rates represent the true baseline for cancer studies.

The chance discovery of an abstract in the Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, “Radiocesium in North San Francisco Bay and Baja California coastal surface waters”,[2] provided me with an answer to a puzzling question about breast cancer. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by the University of California to identify the cause of what may be the highest breast cancer rates[3] in the United States in Marin County, California, just north of San Francisco.

Fig. 1: San Francisco Bay Area, with Marin County in upper left corner.

Even more surprising, the radiocesium reported in the paper had been measured by the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab, from the north end of San Francisco Bay to the coastal waters at the tip of Baja California, Mexico. By mapping the pattern of breast cancer in Marin County, I identified the San Francisco Bay shoreline of the Marin County peninsula as the environment where the highest rates of breast cancer occur in the county. The deepest part of San Francisco Bay is offshore from Marin, and the highest volume of sediment-laden water passes through this area each day with the tides. The lowest breast cancer rates are along the Pacific coastline of Marin. The spatial distribution of breast cancer made it clear that there had to be an environmental cause. Large areas of mudflats and estuaries along the bay side shoreline of Marin, like the Welsh seacoast, provide a low energy environment for radioactive contaminated fine sediments to settle out.

Most of the fresh water coming into San Francisco Bay is from the Sierra Nevada Mountains east of the California coastline, a very high mountain range running north and south along the border with Nevada. The soils of the Sierras are now contaminated with radioactive materials from nuclear bomb testing, Chernobyl, and the emissions from the Rancho Seco nuclear power plant, which operated east of San Francisco until it was shut down in 1989. Most of the drinking water for the San Francisco Bay area comes from the Sierras. Approximately 95% of the radioactive emissions from Rancho Seco were rained and snowed out into the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

During the lawsuit, which eventually shut down Rancho Seco nuclear power plant in 1989, the citizens who owned the Sacramento municipal power company contracted with Lawrence Livermore nuclear weapons lab to measure fission product emissions in the Rancho Seco environment. I obtained the Livermore radiation reports and communications with lawyers, from Dr. Ernest J. Sternglass who had been an expert witness on the lawsuit. It was a surprise to discover that Livermore nuclear weapons lab has not only secretly conducted extensive global monitoring of radiation for decades, but local radiation monitoring as well. In fact, I saw fresh samples from Hiroshima and Nagasaki lying on a table in a Livermore environmental laboratory in 1991. When I asked why they were still monitoring Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I was told “Because they are still radioactive.”

Livermore nuclear weapons lab reported measuring one Curie of radiocesium per year[4], passing through San Francisco Bay attached to fine sediment. Clay particles are highly charged and act as scavenging agents for radioactive particles suspended in water. This has been a chronic and cumulative source of low-level radiation washing up daily on the San Francisco Bay side of the Marin shoreline for at least 60 years – since bomb testing started. The European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) report has stated that chronic exposure to low-level radiation is “up to 1000 times more biologically damaging than the ICRP standards and risk model predict”.[5] The ICRP standards and risk model are based on the Hiroshima and Nagasaki Atomic Bomb studies, which were deceptively conducted by the U.S. Government.

Radiocesium is just one of hundreds of radionuclides produced in the fission process, which means far more radiation has been washing through north San Francisco Bay than the 1 Curie of cesium reported in the Livermore report. Even worse, the public health impact from global pollution by depleted uranium, was not officially measured or reported from bomb testing, but someone must have been monitoring it. All atomic and hydrogen bombs have large amounts of depleted uranium packed as “tamping” around the small plutonium core weighing less than 20 lbs.[6] A global diabetes epidemic is the result primarily of the uranium pollution which is particularly damaging to the pancreas and insulin function. Pancreatic cancer mortality in Japanese males increased 12-fold between 1945 and 1965, during the peak of atmospheric testing.[7]

Fig. 2: Trend of mortality rate from pancreatic cancer in Japan (Males) for the period prior to and following the release of fission products into the environment.”
From M. Segi, M. Kurihara, and T. Matsuyama, “Cancer Mortality in Japan (1899-1962)”, Department of Public Health, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, 1965.

The Marin County study is the kind of natural experiment geoscientists find useful in their research, with the Pacific coastline as a natural control and San Francisco Bay mudflats in Marin County as the study area. It is also a good comparison of the public health effects of radionuclide concentrations in contaminated freshwater compared to seawater. When the mud samples from the Marin County bay side shoreline and the Pacific coastline are analyzed, low-level radiation from the Sierras will be identified as the cause of what may be the highest breast cancer incidence in the United States. High rates of autism also occur in areas, between the Sierras and Marin County, in low energy environments where swampy still water and mudflats occur and are recharged with contaminated water washing down from the Sierras. Radiation in the environment has a cumulative effect.[8]

The University of California, as the unchallenged manager for 61 years of the nuclear weapons program at Los Alamos National Lab, Lawrence Livermore Lab, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab, has received billions of dollars to make a global radioactive environmental mess, hundreds of millions of dollars more to “study” the breast cancer clusters in Marin County, and has still failed to identify the cause. Yet, during a breast cancer conference on January 21, 2006, by the Bay Area Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Center (BABCERC), Dr. Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff from the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, who introduced herself as “the mouse lady”, stated very clearly during her presentation to 600 women, that “radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice”.[9] She spoke repeatedly in her talk about her experiments on mice, saying “Radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice and that is why I use it to cause breast cancer in mice.” She said they never identified the cause of breast cancer in women.

When it was time for questions, I held up an enlarged breast cancer map using US Government data, which identified a 100-mile radius from nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons labs as the location of 2/3 of all breast cancer deaths in the United States from 1985-89.

Fig. 3: Left – High-risk counties within 100 miles of nuclear reactors where 2/3 of breast cancer deaths occurred 1985-1989. Source: J. Gould, The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors, Four Walls Eight Windows, NY/London (1996), p.187.
Right - Nuclear power plant locations in the U.S. Source: “The Madness of Nuclear Energy”, The Ecologist, Vol. 29 No. 7, November 1999, back cover.

I asked the speaker, Dr. Mary Helen Barcellos-Hoff, if BABCERC was investigating radiation as a cause of breast cancer around these sites. She quickly replied, “Oh, I’m a microbiologist!” distancing herself from exposing radiation as the obvious cause.

The University of California will forever be known as the University that poisoned the world.

[1] Haviland, A., The geographical distribution of heart disease and dropsy, cancer in females and phthisis in females in England and Wales, London: Swan Schonnenschein, 1875.
[2] Volpe, A.M., B.B. Bandong, B.K. Esser, G.M. Bianchini, “Radiocesium in North San Francisco Bay and Baja California coastal surface waters”, Journal of Environmental Radioactivity, 60 (2002) 365-380.
[3] Laurie, J., “Alarming breast cancer rates in northern California county”, World Socialist Web, Oct. 31, 2002. http://www.wsws.org/articles/2002/oct2002/canc-o31.shtml
[4] Volpe, et al., 2002.
[5] “ECRR: 2003 Recommendations of the European Committee on Radiation Risk”, Regulator’s Edit.: Brussels, 2003, p.182.
[6] Glasstone, S., The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, Dept. of the Army Pamphlet No. 50-3, Headquarters Dept. of the Army, March 1977, p. 15 sec. 1.50.
[7] Segi, M., M. Kurihara, T. Matsuyama, “Cancer Mortality in Japan (1899-1962)”, Department of Public Health, Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan, 1965.
[8] Fowler, J.M., Fallout: A Study of Superbombs, Strontium 90, and Survival, Basic Books NY, 1960, p. 59 Fig. 11.
[9] Nichols, B., “Breast cancer meeting fails people of Hunters Point, San Francisco, Marin County”, Indybay.org, January 26, 2006. http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2006/01/28/17987821.php

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