Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Malaysiakini - Lynas: Public has right to be concerned

Chan Chee Khoon
Jun 13, 11
I seem to have touched a raw nerve with Lynas as reported in a news website on Jun 3.

What I actually said at the IAEA hearings and at a Kuantan public forum was the following:
  • Chernobyl and CERRIE reports clearly indicate no consensus among experts on the subject of low level radiation exposures, especially health risks in relation to internal emitters. With respect to Chernobyl, there are wildly divergent estimates of the human toll from that disaster (see IAEA-WHO vs Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (2009)).
  • In a situation where experts cannot come to a consensus, the precautionary principle is crucial and minority opinions cannot be summarily dismissed (let's recall that majority opinion in the 1950s assumed that obstetric X-rays were not harmful, until Alice Stewart's pathbreaking studies at Oxford - initially also dismissed - on fetal damage from X-rays).
  • Lynas' Gebeng plant involves occupational and environmental exposures to fine respirable suspended particulates containing radioactive thorium-232, as well as its daughter radionuclide radon-220 (gas), both of which emit alpha particles that cause 20 times the damage to cellular genetic material compared to the same dose of absorbed energy from beta and gamma radiation.
  • The Kuantan community have clearly indicated that they don't want to be Lynas's lab rats in a natural experiment in this situation of uncertainty.
  • All the more there is reason to review the approving the plant, given the reported excess of childhood leukemias (and birth deformities and lead toxicity) in Bukit Merah in the 1980s that were never properly investigated.

Chan Chee Khoon, ScD (Epidemiology) writes from the Centre for Population Health, department of social & preventive medicine, University of Malaya Faculty of Medicine.

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