Wednesday, February 06, 2008

My Baby Teeth Fought Nuclear Fallout

An item in yesterday's paper caught my eye - Dr. Walter Bauer, head of the St. Louis Baby Teeth Study, died at age 82. When I was a child, the tooth fairy would leave money, but not take the teeth. Instead, we would fill out cards and bring them to school, where they would become part of the Committee for Nuclear Information's study on nuclear fallout.

Growing up in 1960s St. Louis, we were downwind from nuclear tests in Nevada. So were the cows that provided the milk we drank (brought by milk men who would, on occasion, give us big chunks of clear ice we would hurl onto our concrete porch and break into lickable pieces, but that's another reminiscence). The traces of nuclear fallout (strontium-90) in the grass they ate was concentrated into the milk we drank, and showed up in our teeth.

Ultimately, the information gathered by the study motivated President Kennedy to negotiate a ban on above-ground nuclear testing by the US and the Soviet Union. It also led to me getting really cool pins that I could wear on my shirt saying "I gave my tooth to science!", which somehow increased my importance in the world.

It wasn't until I was in college that I found out this was peculiar . . .


Anonymous travelingal said...

Interesting, Dan.

Do you glow in the dark too?


2/07/2008 7:54 AM  
Anonymous gobruins! said...

I too grew up in St. Louis and have the same toothsome memories. In fact, a couple of years ago I received a letter from Washington University saying I was on the tooth list from this era and they might have my teeth! I called them and they said they doubted they could ever find them but that, if they did, they would send them to me. I hope they get here soon, before my current set falls out!

2/07/2008 8:55 AM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

They are now doing a follow-up study to see whether or not Baby Boomers who developed cancer by age 45 had higher Sr-90 levels than those who are healthy at age 45.

It's what they don't tell you that I find troubling. Sr-90 is much like Calcium, and therefore has an affinity for bones, and teeth. I doubt the cow’s milk really has much to do with the absorption of Sr-90. The most likely cause of Sr-90 absorption is directly thru the environment. They measured it in baby teeth, as those are the teeth and bones that are growing rapidly, therefore, faster absorption.

Sr-90 itself is not the problem. When it decays, it gives off beta radiation, of which clothing, saliva, paper, etc shield the body from it. The teeth and bone that have high levels of Sr-90 in them will effectively self-shield from any harmful effects of the beta radiation.

Unfortunately, Sr-90 decays to Yr-90. Yttrium-90 gives off gamma radiation when it decays. Gamma, much like x-ray, is not so easily shielded. Due to gamma's high energy content, they can cause serious damage when absorbed by living cells. Gamma radiation from the decay of Yr-90 is much more likely to be related to cancer than the initial Sr-90 absorption.

One of the other effects of Sr-90 decay is that it gives off heat. As we are currently concerned with global warming, we must ask; Does the decay of Sr-90 from nuclear testing have anything to do with global warming? Would “they”, our government, tell us if it does?

As many people are currently changing to LCD and Plasma TV's, they should know that Yr-90 is in the CRT's of their color televisions. Don't just bust them up and throw the parts in the trash.

2/07/2008 9:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Golly Whistleblower....all that information makes my teeth hurt.

2/07/2008 12:16 PM  
Blogger Faith said...

Hahahahahaha at Anony 12:16. I was all, Holy COW (heh), that's a lot of info for one head to hold! myself about whistleblower's comment.

I can't imagine being a scientist. My head would hurt allll the time.

2/07/2008 1:16 PM  
Blogger whistleblower said...

Sorry... I forgot how much my nuclear physics classes gave me a headache.

It's surprising how much anything we do, that departs from that which would occur naturally, comes back to haunt us.

I guess that’s one of the flaws of being such inquisitive and creative beings.

It is a good indicator of the need for restraint in many areas. Just because we have the ability to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that we should do something. The effect may not be detectable using current methods, but that doesn’t mean the effects don’t exist, or will not be experienced in the future.

2/07/2008 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Whistleblowme said...

Even I have to compliment you on your knowledge, Whistleblower.

2/07/2008 4:22 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Hey blowme, you don't even know whether 'blower is making all that stuff up or not.

I suggest you save your manlove for Dan. After all, after your comments of late you've got a serious mancrush on the guy (Dan).

Quite embarrassing if you ask me.


Note to 'blower: you are speaking as a true enviromentalist, and for for that I say thank you.

2/07/2008 10:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an interesting post. I never knew.

It's no fun being a lab rat, especially if you know it is not normal at the time you are being analyzed.

2/07/2008 10:51 PM  
Blogger Dan said...


Whistleblowme hasn't been all that kind to me - unless he's emailing private stuff about me to you. All he did was correct some yahoo who thought I make lousy predictions,

On the other hand, he hasn't been incredibly and insanely nasty to anyone lately, which, after reading the Prime Buzz, probably does feel like love bombs.

2/08/2008 6:07 AM  
Anonymous AF said...

I thought it was strange to be reading about so many teeth in one day. lol I'm a nerd.

2/09/2008 9:30 AM  
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12/07/2008 6:18 PM  

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