Apr 17, 2009

Sick Resident Blames Research

By Raam Wong, Albuquerque Journal Staff Writer

A second lawsuit has been filed alleging Los Alamos residents were made sick by research performed in the early years of the town's federal nuclear weapons lab.

Cora Medina claims in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday that she developed thyroid cancer and asthma as a result of playing in canyons near what today is known as Los Alamos National Laboratory as a girl for much of the 1950s.

“While playing in the canyons, Cora Medina and her friends would jump from barrel to barrel and from canister to canister,” the suit states. “When puddles of water were present in the canyons, Cora Medina and her friends would splash each other with water, which possibly contained radioactive waste.”

The complaint states Medina, who now lives in Alcalde, also drank milk bought from local grocery stores. The milk could have come from cows “which ingested radioactive materials by eating grass and drinking water in the areas surrounding LANL,” the suit states.

The complaint is thought to be the second of its kind. In a similar suit brought last April, the daughter of Lowell Ryman alleged that his 2005 death, at age 63, was the result of multiple myeloma caused by years spent playing in Acid Canyon near LANL as a child in the 1950s.

Michael Howell of Houston is the attorney on both cases. An Albuquerque attorney also involved in the lawsuits did not return calls for comment.

Both complaints names as defendants the Regents of the University of California, which ran the lab until 2006, and The Zia Company, the contractor that performed management, construction and maintenance duties at the lab until 1986. The lab is now run by Los Alamos National Security, a for-profit contractor of which UC is a partner.

UC spokesman Chris Harrington said in a statement: “While it is well known that waste was discharged into Acid Canyon from the beginning of the Manhattan Project and through the mid-1960s, this waste did not pose a risk to human health or safety.”

The spokesman said the lab continuously monitors for all contamination both on and off the lab property.

“All areas are well below the Department of Energy standard for public human health as it relates to radioactivity in soils and air,” Harrington said.

An attorney for Zia did not return a call for comment. A lab spokesman referred questions to Harrington.

In court filings in the ongoing Ryman case, UC acknowledged releasing “nondangerous quantities” of radioactive liquid waste into Acid Canyon during the development of the atomic bomb during World War II, continuing until 1951.

The historic dumping has been well documented and attributed to the lack of environmental safeguards in place at the time.

Higher than average rates of thyroid cancer in Los Alamos County have long been a concern.

A 1996 state Health Department epidemiology study could not explain why Los Alamos County residents developed thyroid cancer at a rate four times higher than the rest of the state between 1988 through 1995.

Last year, the Journal reported that the rate among non-Hispanic white males in Los Alamos County has been falling, and today is below the statewide average.

But the rate among Anglo women was still high: 66 cases per 100,000 residents between 2001 and 2005, compared with an average of 21 cases for all other counties. In real numbers, that's 22 cases among the population of non-Hispanic white women in Los Alamos County.

Health experts have warned against drawing conclusions about the causes.

One reason rates of thyroid cancer — a relatively rare but generally curable disease — could be high is because the highly educated, affluent population in Los Alamos has better-than-average access to medical care, experts say.

Medina says in her complaint that she underwent surgery to remove thyroid cancer shortly after being diagnosed between 1958 and 1960.

But, even as an adult, the complaint states, Medina has had to take thyroid medication and endure pain and suffering as a result of ongoing thyroid treatment.

She also continues to suffer from chronic headaches and asthma that first developed as a child, according to the suit.

The complaint adds that a “close childhood friend” from Los Alamos died of brain cancer in the 1950s.

The suit states that in 1990s Medina was working at a used-car lot when a LANL representative approached her and mentioned that the lab was conducting an investigation into whether lab operations caused health problems.

While Medina maintains that she told the representative of her condition, she later received a package of literature from LANL indicating that her illness was not caused by LANL operations, the suit states. Medina says she no longer has the papers and can't remember who sent them to her.

Among other things Medina is suing for negligence, engaging in dangerous activities and “fraudulent concealment.”


Anonymous said...

Thyrhoid problems are rampant in Los Alamos and White Rock but the lab has refused for years to release any data. Why doesn't the county have this data?

Anonymous said...

Please, give me a break. I was born and raised in this town, since 1950. I am a male and as a result have jumped in every pond in every canyon around here. It is a memory of growing up in this area I cherish. I do not mean to harm Cora or others, and wish them well with their treatments. But to blame a "deep pocket" for the crap shoot called life is questionable.

Let the slings and arrows begin.

Anonymous said...

4:07 pm: "Thyrhoid problems are rampant in Los Alamos and White Rock but the lab has refused for years to release any data. Why doesn't the county have this data?"

What data has the lab refused to release? None of it is classified, so why has a FOIA request not been filed for specific data? Almost all relevant data was released, with great fanfare, in the 90's with the "Human Studies Project" mandated by O'Leary. And before that, the RCRA studies of old release sites. Please elaborate your claim of non-release of data(which I strongly believe based on personal experience is false).

Anonymous said...

The cancer claim probably was not a result of the Lab, but rather a consequence of living on Earth. That still doesn't make Chris Harrington any less of a lying sack of shit though.

Anonymous said...

"the lab has refused for years to release *ANY* data" (emphasis added).

This is most ignorant, ridiculous comment posted on this blog in a LONG time. Are you kidding? The lab and DOE has released literally library-shelves full of data related to environmental releases, health surveys, the plutonium workers study, and on and on. Several very good books have been written from this date (example: see George Voelz and his work on the Pu workers study)

For nearly all of the cancers studied, the rates are below the population averages, and in many cases, below the control group averages. Take a basic statistics course. The thyroid (and brain cancer) so called "clusters" have been studied ad naseum, and no casual factors have been found.

A disspassionate assessment of health effects in Los Alamos county concludes that the population there is far healthier than average, and somewhat healthier than the control groups. Radiation Hormesis was proposed many decades ago to explain the generally longer life spans that were found in Pu-exposed workers, with increasing life span correlating with increasing exposure (compared to control groups that accounted for socio-economic factors, of course).

The vitriol, knee-jerk, and ignorant responses on this blog have always been a source of amusement.

Head on over to Mesa Public library. You could spend the next year reading lab- and DOE-released data on health effects.

Anonymous said...

4/18 11:43 pm: "You could spend the next year reading lab- and DOE-released data on health effects."

You are entirely correct. However, you are obviously knowedgeable, and therefore aware that the response to your statements will be "lies, all lies, by the government that is trying to cover up all their crimes and murders." Get used to it, it will never change. Especially among those who see a glimmer of possibility of getting something for free from the government. Welcome to Northern New Mexico.

Anonymous said...

This is purely anecdotal, but I do know of one scientist at LANL who died from the very virulent form of thyroid cancer which is usually associated with radiation exposure. However, this person was the triggerman on several atmospheric tests at NTS and in the Pacific and on two occasions he recieved more radiation than he should have, both incidents which occurred at NTS. However, the thing that didn't fit is that these acute exposures occurred ~ 30 years prior to his developing cancer. Cancer usually doesn't have that long of a latency period.

Anonymous said...

asthma? I would guess either genetic or exposure to allergens caused my chamisa, ragweed, and juniper in the canyons, NOT toxic chemicals dumped into the canyon.

Anonymous said...

"While Medina maintains that she told the representative of her condition, she later received a package of literature from LANL indicating that her illness was not caused by LANL operations, the suit states. Medina says she no longer has the papers and can't remember who sent them to her."

"No longer has???" "Can't remember???" Material critical to her claim, right?. Yeah, this lady really has her life together, and of course, it has to be the government's fault. Sad, sad Northern New Mexico. If it weren't for LANL, who would they blame for their failure to stay in school, get an education, and get out to a better life? If your best hope in life is to drive a battered 1960's Ford pickup and have four kids that you can't afford, you get what you hope for. If on the other hand you hope to get rich and famous dealing meth or crack, you get dead. Still stupid.