No all-clear for cancer risk from aces

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Study found no association between cancer accumulation and Asse nuclear facility

Increased rates of new leukemia in the area around the Asse nuclear repository caused great concern among the population, the state government and environmental groups. A study commissioned by the district of Wolfenbüttel came to the conclusion that "there is no clear evidence of an increased cancer risk from increased radiation exposure". The opposition criticizes the study. A high level of informative value is not given, "no all-clear".

In 2010, an evaluation of the Lower Saxony Epidemiological Cancer Registry (EKN) caused great uncertainty. The experts had identified a significantly increased number of cancers - especially leukemia in men and thyroid cancer in women - in the area around the former Asse salt mine. As a result, the district of Wolfenbüttel initiated an investigation into cancer cases in the 10,000 municipality of Asse. The first results have now been determined two years later. "A direct connection to the repository could not be determined," is the key message of the study. When presenting the evaluation, however, District Administrator Jörg Röhmann (SPD) made it clear that he had hoped for far more data. Therefore, the "significance of the study is severely limited". Nevertheless, the study results would provide an initial all-clear in Asse.

Cancer cases clustered around Asse
The scientists evaluated the data from the Cancer Registry of the State of Lower Saxony from 2002 to 2010. It was found that about two people in Asse develop new leukemia each year. In a nationwide comparison, however, only 10,000 blood cancer cases occur. In thyroid cancer cases, there were even three times as many new cases than the national average. The experts were unable to explain why.

Still, the results would be positive. "We can still give the all-clear for the aces, because the employees at the repository are not affected," emphasized Röhmann. According to the current state of knowledge, only one employee out of 800 employees at the repository suffered from leukemia between 1967 and 2008. This has resulted in an analysis of the cancer registry and interviews with Asse employees.

"No all-clear"
The Greens in the state parliament criticize the all-clear. There is "no reason for a premature all-clear". Part of the Asse scandal is the "absolutely scarce data situation", said the group leader Stefan Wenzel. The Greens politician demanded that operators of nuclear facilities be legally obliged to create state-controlled lists of possible occupational diseases for their employees.

The left also expressed sharp criticism. Victor Perli, deputy chairman of the Left Group in the state parliament and member of the local Asse II support group said: “The study only examined whether conclusions could be drawn from the medical data on the nuclear waste storage facility. District administrator Röhmann pointed out that the significance of this data is severely limited. In the same breath, he gives the all-clear for the dangers of released radioactivity - that is dubious about the population. We do not need tranquillizers, but a reversal of the burden of proof: the Asse operators have to prove that the desolate nuclear waste dump is not the cause of the diseases. It has been known for years that the aces' exhaust air releases radioactive substances. This is several times higher for the aces than for a nuclear power plant. ”

In 2010, 152 cancer patients reported to the authorities, according to media reports. These were asked questions about work, place of residence and cancer risks such as smoking. All types of cancer were recorded in the questionnaire campaign. The researcher paid particular attention to leukemia and thyroid cancer. Both cancers are suspected to be caused by increased radiation exposure.

Insufficient number of cancer patients
Of the 152 participants, 40 came directly from the Asse municipality. Eight of them suffered from leukemia and six from thyroid cancer. 47 new cases of leukemia and thyroid cancer have been recorded in the state register since 2002. "We expected all 47 affected people to report," said Dorothea von Nicolai of the Wolfenbüttel Health Office. But only a third of those affected would have reported. The minimal information from the register, gender, age and postal code, could only contribute little to the research of the causes.

However, the new Cancer Registry Act is due to come into force from January 1, 2013. Then there is an extended reporting obligation. So far, only pathologists have been able to report cancer, from next year doctors will also report cancer cases. (sb)

Also read:
Aces employees don't get cancer from radiation?
Leukemia Danger from ailing aces facility?
Ministry of Environment: Ace cancer rate pure coincidence
Chance of aces cancer rate not proven
Cancer cases around the aces remain unresolved
Radioactive radiation: consequences for health

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