THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Thyroid Iodine Level Measures Fallout
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By MICHAEL JULIAR
No one knows the maximum
A correlation has been found permissible level of radioactivity
between fallout from atomic bomb for human beings-the so-called
tests and the radioactive iodine "danger" level.
131 content of the thyroid gland "That is the reason thatl there
in human fetuses, according to is such a controversy over fallout
researchers at the University Hos- levels and the harm they can do
pital's Thyroid Research Division. to humans. But we have found no
The team of researchers, led harm caused to these fetuses by
by Dr. William H. Beierwaltes of the radioactive levels observed
the medical school has been ob- during our experimenting," Dr.
serving the phenomenon since Beierwaltes says.
1958, on a three year grant fromReference Point
the Atomic Energy Commis-
sion. Theyare now working un- The maximum level permissible
der a new AEC grant. or "danger" level used as a ref-
When a ,series of atomic bomb erence point by the Federal Ra-
testing stopped in 1958, the re- diation Council was extrapolated
searchers began to acquire fetal from guesses given by many peo-
thyroids and to measure their ra ple working in the field of harm-
dioactive levels, since the thyroid ful effects of radioactivity on hu-
gland is the only part of the body mans.
that uses iodine. "We have long observed that
Still Unique younger people are more sensitive
The idea of using human fetuses to radiation, than older individ-
as a source of this kind of study uals, from the standpoint of the
had never been done before and commonly listed harmful effects
is still unique to the scientific of radiation. The human fetus,
world. therefore, is even more sensitive
After the 1958 tests by Russia, than the child," Dr. Beierwaltes
Great Britain and the United adds.
States, the iodine 131 count in The fetuses are ;collected from
the fetal thyroids rose for three abortions, ceasarean sections, pre-
weeks after the termination of the mature labors, stillbirths and neo-
tests-finally reaching a peak. At natal deaths within Michigan.
that point, the maximum permis- The thyroid glands of these fet-.
sible level had been reached for uses are then placed as soon as
human fetuses but no damage was possible in a crystal counter.
observed to their thyroid glands Radioactive Decay
due to the iodine 131. Looking something like a well,
Also, after the two French tests the counter records any radoac-
in the Sahara early in 1960, the tivity the thyroids might give off.
count rose in the fetal thyroids. Bursts of light caused by the ra-
Commercial Milk dioactive decay within the glands
Last September, the Soviet Un- are seen on the edges of the
ion tested some 13 or 14 bon bs. well. A photomultiplier and an
The typical lag period was fol- amplifier pick up these flashes
lowed by a rising radiation count and record them as pulses of elec-
in commercial milk. The radioac- tric current. For every pulse there
tive count has now fallen to base- is one flash.
line levels: The counting is repeated every
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eight days because all evidence
points to iodine 131 as the cause
of the radioactivity, and the half
life of iodine 131 is eight days.
(The half life of an element is
the time in which half of the sub-
stance decays through radioactiv-
Through a chemical process the
iodine 131 in the fetal thyroids
is extracted, dried and in the de-
partment of physics, a carbon
dater machine is used to measure
the radioactive level of the thy-
Through this process, the re-
searchers monitor the thyroids of
human fetuses, adults and hogs.
Also monitored is human breast
milk, cow. milk and a reagent
blank as a control.
Dr. Beierwaltes hopes to use
rates or mice in the future because
of their short 'life span.. In two
years the rat or mouse would give
the type of information that
would take 30 years to collect in
the human, that is, what even-
tually happens to the irradiated
Also, Dr. Beierwaltes says that
they would like to observe the
contemporaries of fetuses already
monitored as a followup to see if
there is any change.
So far, the study has observed
two radioactive buildups due to
bomb testing. But, Dr." Beierwaltes
says that he is in no position now
to make a connection between
atomic tests and the hypothesis
that harm might be caused by
He observes that the radioactive
peaks come during spring rains
because the most radioactive de-
bris is carried aloft and comes
down especially when heavy spring
rains wash the atmosphere.
A second radioactive peak may
be found in thyroids in May from
the Russian detonations late last
Dr. Beierwaltes says that there
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fisher of "The Carolina Israelite"
and author of "Only in America"
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are several measures that can
instituted if the maximum per.
sible level is exceeded again.
One measure is to drink n
radioactive milk, such as fi
milk from which iodine 131
been extracted, and canned
Another possibility is to
iodine supplements to human,
order to keep their external c
sumption of iodine 131 down.
thyroid gland can absorb on
certain amount of iodine and t
it stops taking the chemical i
What is to be done in the
Dr. Beierwaltes says that
group ,would like to observe
other radioactive period from
beginning to the end. Worlk
fetuses exposed to the 1958
did not start till after the
By observing a series of
from beginning to end, a me
of prediction might be discovi
Using thyroid iodine 131 levels
researchers could monitor
mospheric tests conducted ar
the world, noting their frequE
and size. Results show up inf
thyroids from the Ann Arbor
no matter in what part of
world the tests are held.
Dr. Lester Van Middlesworl
the University of Tenessee
done just suh a. thing with :
animals. He monitored t e
around the world in 1958, no
where and when they took p
and where the winds carried
Though Dr. Van Middlesw
never ventured into the. fiel
human fetal thyroids, his rese
with the thyroid glands of f
animals was the pioneering
on the subject.
Also, in the future, the rese
team will give iodine 131 to
different sized animals-one p
ably 'rats. Those pregnant
'breeding would receive the
to discover at what level dan
to the thyroid occurs in pre
and future generations.
So far, Dr. Beierwaltes
there is no evidence that
centrations of iodine 131
had detrimental effects on'gen
tions exposed to fallout. Only
continuing maintenance of a
level might damage occur.
' In the work done at the.
versity, no harmful effects to
thyroid have been observed.
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