NUCLEONICS WEEK - March 20, 2003
U.K. EXPERTS SLAM 'GREEN AUDIT'
FOR RAISING NEEDLESS CANCER FEARS
An independent group of U.K. radiation experts raised a
red flag March 18 about health studies published without
formal peer review, such as the one by Green Audit in March
2001 which claimed a substantial excess of deaths from breast
cancer and prostate cancer in the area near Bradwell magnox station in Essex.
The Green Audit study, reported in the local media,
caused widespread concern among residents in the Bradwell
area. The U.K. government's Department of Health asked the
Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment
(Comare) to provide independent comment.
Comare found no evidence of "any significant excess of
cancer mortality" when it carried out its own analyses of the
Green Audit report and four subsequent reports, it said. It
published a statement and detailed report on its Website Tuesday
Comare said the Green Audit report was followed two
months later by a report from the Small Area Health Statistics
Unit (SAHSU) to the local health authority covering the same
study population and time scale. Both groups used mortality
data from the same source, the Office for National Statistics
(ONS), said Comare, but "there were large differences in the figures presented."
Altogether, Green Audit produced three reports and SAHSU
two on the Bradwell situation, it said. "All three Green
Audit reports contained errors in the actual numbers of deaths
and erroneous or inappropriate figures for the expected numbers
of deaths," Comare said. The result was an over-estimation
of the risks, it said.
"Errors in the first SAHSU report, which underestimated
the cancer risks, were corrected in the second," it said.
After the second SAHSU report in March 2002, which
found no significant excess mortality from breast cancer or
prostate cancer, Comare said it wrote to Green Audit director
Chris Busby asking him to comment on his first report's discrepancies
with the ONS figures. "Dr. Busby was dismissive
of Comare's concerns and unwilling at that time to check the
results in the Green Audit report," it said.
Green Audit then released a third report in December
2002 to one of Comare's working groups. "In it, they explained
most of the errors in their first report, and apologized
for them," said Comare. But, in extending their analysis for
breast cancer, the group introduced "five further errors," it
said. There were also several other minor errors in the report.
Comare said it was concerned that independent reports
using ONS mortality data could be produced with such noticeably
different numbers of deaths. "These differences have
inevitably led to confusion and anxiety among some residents
in the Bradwell area," it pointed out.
Comare underscored its serious concern that such studies
as those by Green Audit could be published without the standard
formal peer review. "Such publications often raise a
considerable amount of public concern, which is subsequently
very difficult to allay if the results are unsubstantiated, as is
the case here," it said.
It noted that local public health officials who had access to
the ONS mortality data could have checked the figures in the
first Green Audit report. "Had they done so, the errors in
Green Audit's numbers of deaths would have been readily
apparent," it said. It recommended that, in the future, when
such allegations are made, public health officials check the
figures quoted against authoritative sources.
A Bradwell magnox station spokesman said he hoped the
Comare report would help counteract "Busby's scaremongering."
He said the Green Audit reports on Bradwell were
among a number covering different U.K. locations. Busby's
"normal modus operandi is to write his report and send it to
the media" without getting it peer-reviewed, he said.
On Jan. 30, an executive summary of a study by the European
Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR), of which Busby
is the scientific secretary, claimed radioactive releases up to
1989 have caused, or will eventually cause, the deaths of 65-
million people worldwide. The ECRR is a panel sponsored by
the Green Group of the European Parliament (EP). That study
reportedly was also based on material not recognized by peer
review, including some presented in newspapers and television (NW, 6 Feb., 13).
Busby is the national spokesman on Science & Technology
for the Green Party of England and Wales and advises the
EP Green Group on radiation and health. He runs a Low Level
Radiation Campaign Web site (www.llrc.org), which
claims that the science underpinning the establishment view
of radiation risk is deeply flawed. "Even the smallest amounts
of man-made radioactivity can cause genetic damage," it says,
calling for a re-evaluation of the risks.
Busby claims that one of his latest published studies
"shows unequivocally that the conventional model for low-level
radiation exposure from internal radioisotopes is in error
by upward of 100-fold."-Pearl Marshall, London