independent

Sunday 19 November 2017

RPII accept that link between Windscale and Dundalk births after 57 unfounded

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has accepted a study published in December 2000 which concluded that there was no link between the fire in a nuclear reactor at Sellafield in 1957 and the outbreak of a cluster of Down Syndrome babies to six mot

by Olivia Ryan

The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) has accepted a study published in December 2000 which concluded that there was no link between the fire in a nuclear reactor at Sellafield in 1957 and the outbreak of a “cluster” of Down Syndrome babies to six mothers who had been pupils at St. Louis Secondary School, Dundalk in 1956-57.

The study was carried out by an international group of scientists led by an Irish epidemiologist, Dr. Geoffrey Dean, and was published in a UK medical journal last December. It investigated the alleged link between a serious fire in a nuclear reactor at Sellafield (then called Windscale) in 1957 and the cluster of Down Syndrome births in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

“The report on the new study confirms that this “cluster” was highly unusual, and warranted the search for some possible common cause,” say the RPII.

“On the assumption that all six mothers were at the Dundalk school at the time of the 1957 fire, the suggestion had been made that radioactive contamination from the fire might have been a factor in causing Down Syndrome in their children,” according to a statement from the RPII.

The Institute issued the statement saying that it was now believed that the new study led by Dr. Dean has established that three of the six girls in question had left the school, and the Dundalk area, some months before the fire occurred.

“Therefore if there was a common cause for the six cases at the school - and the study does not identify any - this common cause could not have been the fire at Windscale.”

The RPII accepted “in light of this finding” that the suggestion of a link between the Down’s Syndrome’s births and the Windscale fire was “unfounded.”

“For many years there has been widespread belief that the existence of such a link was probable or even proven, and this belief has undoubtedly been a source of anxiety for people in Ireland, particularly in the Louth/Dundalk area. The RPII therefore considers it important that the disproving of the suggested link should be widely publicised,” said the Institute statement.

The specific new finding regarding Down’s Syndrome cases does not of course call into question the well established evidence linking exposure to ionising radiation with adverse health effects, particularly cancer, whether the radiation originates from Sellafield or elsewhere.

“In particular, the RPII has never considered that Irish concerns about Sellafield depended on the hypothesis that Down Syndrome cases in Dundalk might be linked to the Windscale fire.

“Ireland’s objections to Sellafield are solidly based,” commented RPII Chief Executive Tom O’Flaherty “on the continuing radioactive contamination of the Irish sea, and most of all on the risk to this country of serious consequences from a major accident at the plant.”

He conclude that these objections are not undermined “because the suggestion of a link with the Down Syndrome cluster in Dundalk has been disproved.”

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