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November 16, 2008 5:40 PM   Subscribe

Babies born in 1954 have more Carbon-14 in their DNA ; trees have rings with a spike of C14 in that year, and even ringless equatorial trees will show an increase of radiocarbon if they were alive in 1954.

In the mid 1950s the United States, Britain, France and Russia tested not quite a million nuclear weapons. Maybe some part of them is still with you.
posted by plexi (63 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
WTF? Million?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:43 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not quite.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:50 PM on November 16, 2008 [7 favorites]


No doubt. The amount of uranium and plutonium in 1 Million fission weapons (A-bombs and H-Bomb primaries) just staggers the mind. There's no way.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:51 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


750 is not the same as 1 million.
posted by awfurby at 5:53 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


All estimates I've seen put the number of tests near 2,000 (breakdown by country).
posted by joe vrrr at 5:54 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is not quite the best post ever.
posted by rocket88 at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2008


Okay, so round up the people born in 1954 and let's figure out which ones mutated into superheroes. They've been hiding their talents from us and presumably could help us fight the evildoers.
posted by billysumday at 6:04 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Let me try:

n the 1950s the United States, Britain, France, and Russia tested no quite a QUINZILLION nuclear weapons.
posted by Justinian at 6:06 PM on November 16, 2008


Well, this explains how how dad always knew what I was up to and mom's glowing eyes when I totaled the car.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:09 PM on November 16, 2008


I'd actually be worried about you 1960-1970ish people, rather than the 1950s kids.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


WE'RE ALL GONNA DIEBE EASY TO RADIO-DATE IN 10,000 YEARS!!!1
posted by DU at 6:14 PM on November 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


The Brooking Institution's Global Nuclear Weapons Tests, 1945-1998 graph shows some 528 atmospheric tests during that period.

Toss in the remaining 1,522 underground tests, and it's still quite enough to piss off Gaia, though.
posted by cenoxo at 6:16 PM on November 16, 2008


*sticks pinky finger in the corner of her mouth, glows gently*
posted by vorfeed at 6:16 PM on November 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


A million? It says, "Up to 730 nuclear tests have been conducted in the past 50 years by the U.S., China, France, India, and Pakistan, a Russian Defense Ministry official said on Tuesday." But in another book it says 1570. And here it says: The average pace of nuclear weapons testing is remarkable: Since 16 July 1945 there have been 2,044 tests worldwide, the equivalent of one test occurring somewhere in the world every nine days for the last fifty years.


Yup. It gave me thyroid cancer, a very aggressive variant of papillary thyroid cancer (tall cell).

Radiation Exposure Is Only Known Cause For Thyroid Cancer
posted by jody brackman on 11 Sept 2006 at 6:52 pm

Having survived a very agressive variant of papillary thyroid cancer (tall cell ) that had invaded my trachea, and caused me to have a total thyroidectomy


When i was diagnosed at MSKCC in NYC, in 2002, there was a link to the NIH study showing numbers of rads per American depending on date of birth, state and county of residence, etc. That site was quickly removed, and no one seems to remember it was there. I did see it however, due to the lucky conincidence that I was diagnosed in 12/02 when it was a link to the hospital site.

I have also read numbers of books previously printed on the subject, some of which show exactly how many tests were conducted (100s) and where the path of the fallout went. I , for instance, was in the direct path of fallout at least 10 times during my childhood.

There is also a Radiation Esposure Compensation Act which compensates victims of certain cancers, Thyroid being the most definitely related, and that Act of congress started just in Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, first with Miners, then nearby victims, and has been continually amended to include victims further away. The science seems to indicate that the thyroids of folks born between 51 and 63 were more likely to take up dangerous doses of I-131 due to our young age at the time, and the fact that we were all exhorted to drink milk. ( which I always hated!).


The American Cancer Society estimated that 30,180 Americans (7,590 men and 22,590 women) would be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2006 and that 1,500 men and women would die of the disease during the year.

The highest rates for thyroid cancer in the world occur in Northern America, where the female age-standardised rate is 8.1 per 100,000 females, compared with 1.4 per 100,000 females in Western Africa. Incidence is low in all parts of Africa.

An estimated 27 million Americans have thyroid disease, and about 13 million of them are undiagnosed.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008 about 37,340 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in the United States. Of the new cases, about 28,410 will occur in women, and 8,930 in men.

A couple of thousand nuclear tests approximately is still a lot of damage done to the planet and all its inhabitants. And when thinking about the McCain/Palin gungho let's nuke Iraq madness the mind boggles.
posted by nickyskye at 6:18 PM on November 16, 2008 [14 favorites]


Good links nickyskye.

Chernobyl was bad but the atomic testing in the 50s and 60s released much more radiation, most of it landing right here in the good ole USA. Most Americans don't realize how utterly it has destroyed this country, a silent killer generation after generation. There is a reason cancer rates are so high, although it can never be proven what caused the cancer (except a few types). Waves of radiation spread from Nevada to the East Coast. I've read a number of books on it and went right out and bought a Geiger counter.
posted by stbalbach at 6:34 PM on November 16, 2008


The National Cancer Institute (NCI) report contains an assessment of radioactive Iodine-131 (I-131) fallout exposure from the nuclear bomb tests

Interesting that the radiation treatment I received a few months ago in July, to treat the thyroid cancer, a wallop of a dose of radiation, 154 millicuries, swallowed. It was Iodine I-131, the same one that caused the cancer in the first place.

oh wow. Thanks to this post I just found this:
Nuclear weapons testing still affects human health
Alliance for Nuclear Accountability/The Workbook
February 26, 1998

Are you at risk? An important message about radiation health effects for people who were children in the 1950s


And from there I did some sleuthing and found this in the internet archive. Per capita thyroid doses resulting from all exposure routes from all tests

Jackpot. This is a significant and useful resource:
The new site with the data at the National Cancer Institute.
Information and resources for Americans exposed to I-131 (a form of radioactive iodine) through fallout from above-ground nuclear testing in the 1950s and early 60s.

The main way the radiation impacted infants was that they drank milk from cows who had eaten grass on which radioactive dust from these tests fell.
posted by nickyskye at 6:44 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have not quite a million dollars.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 6:59 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


And when thinking about the McCain/Palin gungho let's nuke Iraq madness the mind boggles.

McCain wanted to use nuclear weapons in Iraq?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 7:00 PM on November 16, 2008


Seriously though, more questions arise. As per CitrusFreak12's graphic, does the 1954 figure still hold? Wouldn't there be many more traces in 1958 and/or 1962? Also, why were there hardly any nuclear weapons tests in 1959 and 1960?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:03 PM on November 16, 2008


...why were there hardly any nuclear weapons tests in 1959 and 1960?

"On 22 August 1958, the day after the experts had finished their report, Eisenhower announced that the United States would halt nuclear testing for one year if the Soviet Union (and the United Kingdom) would do likewise."
posted by Knappster at 7:10 PM on November 16, 2008


My dad was born in 1954. I guess I wasn't wrong for thinking he was a superhuman as a child.
posted by invitapriore at 7:12 PM on November 16, 2008


Wasn't there just a post about how modern geniuses should have been born in or around 1954? Now we know why.

Clearly, to build a society of hyper-intelligent citizens we simply need to set off more nukes.
posted by vernondalhart at 7:21 PM on November 16, 2008


Well, if A bombs could take down John Wayne and Endora from Bewitched, I guess nobody's safe.
posted by miss lynnster at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


My lab does dendrochronology (using tree-rings for various things), and the "wobble" in C-14 is extremely useful as a time marker in the wood.
posted by Jimbob at 7:37 PM on November 16, 2008


Ahh. Awesome, thanks Knappster.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 7:39 PM on November 16, 2008


Okay, so round up the people born in 1954 and let's figure out which ones mutated into superheroes.

Well, according to Gladwell, babies in the mid-1950s were also disproportionately likely to eventually become major figures in the personal computer industry.
posted by Jpfed at 7:51 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Babies born in 1954 have more Carbon-14 in their DNA

Goddamn baby boomers just have to have more of everything than everyone else.
posted by Muddler at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


And when thinking about the McCain/Palin gungho let's nuke Iraq madness the mind boggles.

McCain wanted to use nuclear weapons in Iraq?


ach, meant to write Iran, not Iraq. The bomb, bomb, bomb Iran song, Iran is a danger thing.
posted by nickyskye at 7:52 PM on November 16, 2008


You think this is shocking, just wait til you hear what happened to over 9,000 penises that very same year.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 8:10 PM on November 16, 2008 [5 favorites]


My lab does dendrochronology (using tree-rings for various things), and the "wobble" in C-14 is extremely useful as a time marker in the wood.

Yes! USA! USA!
posted by dirigibleman at 8:16 PM on November 16, 2008


We are all made of stars! Also, thermonuclear explosions. Same deal.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2008


That's why I think we need to rebrand nuclear power as "Happy Sun Power". What could go wrong?
posted by Justinian at 8:18 PM on November 16, 2008


I was born in 1954 and I am not a baby!
posted by pointilist at 8:42 PM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Great. Now I exclaimed amazedly to a friend that almost a million nuclear weapons had been exploded before realizing that the figure was absurd. Then I had to explain that sometimes people write stupid things on Metafilter.

I vote that this otherwise fascinating post gets deleted out of annoyed revenge.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:06 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd actually be worried about you 1960-1970ish people, rather than the 1950s kids.

They moved underground. You know, like the Weathermen.
posted by dhartung at 9:35 PM on November 16, 2008


That's why I think we need to rebrand nuclear power as "Happy Sun Power". What could go wrong?

It's been tried. (Fortunately, one aspect remains with us.) And you'll love this one.
posted by dhartung at 9:42 PM on November 16, 2008


Bah. Stupid atmospheric test ban treaty, no nuclear pulse drive for us.
posted by Artw at 9:49 PM on November 16, 2008


I heard this NPR piece this morning, and I thought that good science reporting can be done without the goofy attitude and stupid sound effects. It can be interesting and enlightening without being infantilizing.
posted by Auden at 10:22 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I have slept with not quite a million women.
posted by shockingbluamp at 11:41 PM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's a rounding error, cut the guy some slack.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:41 AM on November 17, 2008


Who did one, and only one, test in 1974?
posted by Meatbomb at 12:44 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Babies born in 1954 have more Carbon-14 in their DNA"
1950s, not 1954, and brain cell DNA rather than general DNA. It's pretty obvious that it has to be a specific set over a broad timescale as people tend to do an awful lot of growing during the first years of their life, and the DNA in every cell has to multiply and the matter for this multiplication has to come from what baby eats. So 1953 babies are eating the same food as 1954 ones as will ones in 1955 and so on.
Brain cell DNA is of course important as well because you don't constantly replace your brain like you do your skin for example. Which is a shame for the internet.

Anyway, it's misleading to suggest that those born in 1954 are somehow riddled with radioactive matter the rest of us are not.
posted by edd at 2:58 AM on November 17, 2008


Maybe plexi meant to write "almost a million tons worth of nuclear weapons in the first 50 years of the nuclear age."
...his service was able to register nuclear explosions with yields of 1 kiloton and upwards throughout the world.
700 weapons, each with a yield greater than 1 kiloton.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:17 AM on November 17, 2008


Also, the number 700 does not include any USSR tests.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:18 AM on November 17, 2008


I guess that explains those strange radio signals I'm hearing.

And my third ball.
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:28 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who did one, and only one, test in 1974?

That's the right ballpark for India.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:28 AM on November 17, 2008


And for the UK and the PRC, according to that table.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:06 AM on November 17, 2008


Nuclear weapons testing still affects human health

You know what else affects human health? Actual, honest-to-goodness, this-is-not-a-test nuclear weapons use.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:21 AM on November 17, 2008


I was born in 1952 so there's abababababababsolutely nothing wrong with me.
posted by Restless Day at 7:34 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Who did one, and only one, test in 1974?

That's the right ballpark for India.


Yep, that's India's curiously-named Smiling Buddha.
posted by echo target at 7:49 AM on November 17, 2008


Excellent links, Nickyskye. Thank you for posting. Tons of required reading there.

I hope you're doing well now that you've gone through treatment. I have two friends who are fighting different types of stage 4 cancers... it's been a long fight for them both.

I agree that it's extremely important to raise awareness of the dangers of radiation exposure and for us to increase our understanding of how we're still being affected by tests that were done over 60 years ago. I don't mean to derail your points, here. But for the sake of accuracy, there are actually several factors that increase one's risk of developing thyroid cancer, not one. Radiation exposure is only one of the factors, even though it's the most prevalent. Risk factors which increase the chance one may develop thyroid cancer are: exposure to radiation, family history and genetics sex, race, reproductive history and age.

In other words, different types of thyroid cancer have either (or both) somatic and heritable causes.

Risk of Papillary cancer is increased greatly by radiation exposure altering the B-RAF gene. However, (to the best of my knowledge,) the risk of developing any of the multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes is greatly increased by a different, heritable mutation unlikely to be somatic, through radiation exposure.

More than 25 heritable mutations in the RET proto-oncogene have been directly connected to MEN 2 medullary thyroid cancer. RET is a gene which controls cell growth and MEN2 medullary thyroid cancer is relatively rare. Most people with the RET mutation go on to develop cancer. A few families who don't have the RET genetic defect also develop and pass on medullary thyroid cancer and MEN 2." Genetics testing can now screen for the RET mutation.

Oncologists believe that prophylactic removal of the thyroid in children (something you've experienced firsthand,) prevents the cancer from developing. However, since the RET mutation has also been associated with other types of cancer, specifically lymphatic tumors, kids who undergo the procedure will need to be checked throughout their lives.
posted by zarq at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2008


Ugh. Typo, sorry:

"In other words, different types of thyroid cancer have either (or both) somatic and heritable causes." Should read:

"In other words, different types of thyroid cancer have either (or both) somatic or heritable causes."
posted by zarq at 9:07 AM on November 17, 2008


I don't see why anyone is worried. As Sting sang, deadly for 12 years is carbon 14.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 AM on November 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


This will make it easier for me to date older men.

sorry
posted by rmless at 10:10 AM on November 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


zarq, thanks for the accuracy info. So interesting to learn about the RET gene. Are there specific nationalities/geographic areas with this vulnerability?

My thyroid wasn't removed prophylactically. It had a tumor Stage III and was just removed this April. It was wrapped around my laryngeal nerve. I'm lucky to be able to speak, to have had a surgeon willing to scrape away for 8 hours to get that sticky tumor off. It sucks not having a thyroid. It has been wayyyy harder than I thought it would be, utterly limp with fatigue this year. Fatigue as a concept doesn't come close to the experience.

Checking out the Dose Risk I-131 Calculator, I was born in November 1953 (my 55th birthday is this Friday :)
and was driven about 6 months after birth across America, bottle fed milk as most American babies were at that time, right across the atomic fallout path. Interesting that NYC was more dangerous for the fallout at that time than California. I'm a typical thyroid cancer example of the radiation fallout of the 50's.
posted by nickyskye at 10:30 AM on November 17, 2008


Increasing C-14? Meh. 6000 years ago the Devil was DECREASING C-14 counts in all those dinosaurs he buried.
posted by qvantamon at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2008


I just want to mention something to anyone who might be reading, because I want to make absolutely sure I'm not hijacking the points nickyskye makes above. ALL heritable cancer syndromes are rare. The most frequently diagnosed type of thyroid cancer is papillary. And it is most often caused by radiation exposure, or less often by iodine deficiencies (such as the recent spike in thyroid cancers in Belarus).


nickyskye:

No problem. :)

Are there specific nationalities/geographic areas with this vulnerability?

That's a great question.

Somatic thyroid cancers outnumber heritable ones by a huge margin. Somatic RET mutations which cause papillary thyroid cancers have been directly linked to irradiated geographic areas, but those specific mutations are generally not heritable. People who lived near Chernobyl developed RET-related papillary cancers at a very high rate. scholar.google.com is FULL of papers (like this one) that discuss these cases.

I'm unaware of the regional breakdown for heritable RET-related thyroid cancers. (Doesn't mean one hasn't been done... I just haven't seen one!) Since they're rare and require genetic screening, it wouldn't surprise me to learn that most documented cases show up in developed countries. The studies I've seen have focused on patients or families from specific countries... which isn't really helpful.

But.... heritable RET mutations are responsible for a number of non-cancerous disorders, including Hirschsprung's Disease, and according to this page: "The [RET] mutation [for Hirschsprung] is absent in Africa (<> 25%), and most frequent in Eastern Asia (eg, Japan and China, > 40%)." I have no idea if that breakdown carries over to RET-related heritable cancers. (Frankly, it's the kind of thing I just find interesting to know.)

RET apparently also plays a role in the development of Downs Syndrome.
posted by zarq at 1:02 PM on November 17, 2008


Kirth Gerson: Maybe plexi meant to write "almost a million tons worth of nuclear weapons in the first 50 years of the nuclear age."

Maybe, but unlikely given that there were a number of multi-Megaton tests in the mid-1950s. See test Castle Bravo for one (others).

Or maybe plexi meant the actual weight, not the TNT equivalence of almost a million tons. (Or maybe plexi meant to write "thousand", which is consistent with the linked article of 730 excluding Russia and had a mindtypo.)
posted by skynxnex at 1:17 PM on November 17, 2008


You were very lucky. What a wonderfully caring surgeon, too. Wow. I'm glad you came through the surgery with your voice intact.

I'm sorry about the side effects. That must be incredibly frustrating. :( I understand that balancing the hormones post-surgically can be very difficult?

My mom grew up on Long Island, and lived in Nassau county and/or NYC from 1955-1971. She has hyperthyroidism and gets checked once a year... just to be sure.

Her results from the calculator:
The best estimate of the thyroid dose you received is 19 rad. However, no person's dose can be known with complete certainty. It is unlikely that your dose was lower than 8.4 rad or higher than 61 rad (this is a 90% uncertainty range). The best estimate of your risk of developing thyroid cancer from today forward is 6 chances in 1,000. Therefore, you have about 994 chances in 1,000 of not developing thyroid cancer.

Unreal.
posted by zarq at 1:21 PM on November 17, 2008


Hi again zarq, for the record, I want to write the name of my excellent surgeon here, in case anyone reading this thread in the future will need it: Dr. David I. Kutler and NY Presbyterian at 68th street and York Ave here in NYC. He's as gentle, likable and nice as he looks. Superb surgeon.

Really, really hard to find a good endocrinologist in NYC though. Been really disappointed so far and I desperately need a good one familiar with thyroid cancer who takes Oxford insurance, to help me balance the hormones taken away by the removal of the thyroid. So far the 5 I've been to had a cookie cutter approach, a rehearsed speech they delivered and I felt like I was on a conveyor belt. One was so bored she missed life threatening symptoms of hypocalcemia and a couple days later, this June, I almost died.

They all seemed bored our of their gourd and in a rush. Any information I found on the web re clinical trials or anything was immediately dismissed before being heard as "the internet is almost all crap". Yet, when I was sitting with the director of radiation medicine, as we spoke, he looked up papers on the web as citations for what he was saying, exactly as I do at home.

So zarq, do you mind if I ask how do you know the info about RET? Feel free not to answer, just curious, as ever.
posted by nickyskye at 3:22 PM on November 17, 2008


I really, really wish I could recommend someone wonderful to you. :( Unfortunately, the only endocrinologists I've ever worked with specialized in fertility and reproduction (FACOG's and RE's). They don't handle oncology, and none of them are affiliated with hospitals in our region.

What you describe sounds hauntingly familiar, though. Friends with other types of cancer have described similar experiences. Doctors who are either mentally disconnected, globally dismissive of the potentially positive alternative treatments or who just aren't up on the latest research. It's frustrating as hell. As a patient, they're literally your lifeline.

How the hell does someone who (presumably deals daily) with cancer patients miss diagnosing hypercalcemia? Isn't it common in cancer patients??? I'm relieved you're ok.

So zarq, do you mind if I ask how do you know the info about RET? Feel free not to answer, just curious, as ever.

A friend in Australia has something called "Sipple's Syndrome." It's a tumor producing disease caused by an RET mutation.

Also, my dad had Multiple Sclerosis. I obsessively read every journal article I can get my hands on regarding research into the disease. One of the studies I read a few years ago looked at RET to see if the gene contained genetic markers which could determine a predisposition to MS. Why they did this, I can't recall. On the surface, it seems to make little sense: the gene controls (among other things) cellular growth. Perhaps the researchers were making a stab in the dark... or maybe they thought the gene might direct myelin sheath repair?

Anyway, the study was a bust. No markers. But at the time I found RET so fascinating that I started studying up on it.
posted by zarq at 4:43 PM on November 17, 2008


Does this mean if we carbon-dated the brain of somebody born in 1954, the lab would tell us that the person to whom the brain belonged was born in 7684 CE?
posted by Mr Stickfigure at 5:53 PM on November 17, 2008


Thanks for the generous reply zarq. Sorry to hear about your dad's MS.

This is a resource I find very practically helpful. Life Extension Foundation. This is their page on MS.

Sipple's Syndrome sounds really harsh.

Proton beam radiation is supposed to do the least amount of damage.

Have you done any research on this new stuff DCA, Dichloroacetic acid?

The Sloan Kettering site for clinical trials re alternative and complementary meds is good. So is the excellent Annie Appleseed Project.

The "disconnected" doctors about hits the spot in what I've observed in all aspects of the cancer business. Except the nurses. Oncology nurses are some of the best people I've ever met and there are some awesome ones on Metafilter (shout out to de and dog_food_sugar).

With doctors I've long given up on any discussion whatsoever of anything remotely alternative. Typical that I met my gyn onc in Whole Foods but he wouldn't discuss supplements as I went through chemo and radiation.

After the near death by hypocalcemia experience and feeling like a zombie for an entire year of what is statistically a limited lifespan, I've been driven to be more proactive. What I do now is have a pre-written medical history, research what I think I might need and ask for it, type it out on paper, the dosage of the medication, every test I think would be pertinent, when I would like to see the doc next. So far that seems to work best. Relying on their active, alert interest has failed utterly a number of times.

My gyn onc (I'm surviving uterine and fallopian tube cancers as well), when I asked "What's this lump on my neck?" He barely patted me and said, "It's probably nothing. But if you really feel like you have to see somebody, I can refer you to a general surgeon." To hell with that. I went on the web and immediately found a head and neck cancer surgeon, asked for a biopsy.

Was fortunate to find an excellent surgeon. Actively interested doctors are rare. I was thinking of building a positive medical database: Doctors that actually are interested in what they do on a day to day basis with patient referrals. (Health Grades is a time waste) I'm not website construction savvy though. Perhaps putting this idea out there somebody will run with it.
posted by nickyskye at 7:06 PM on November 17, 2008


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