Radioactive cesium in follicular fluid and semen

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(April 6, 1990) According to a report by the Austria Presse Agentur (APA) sent to WISE by Dr. Alex. Tollmann of the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft nein zur Atomenergie Ja zur Umwelt", a Viennese genealogist has dropped a scientific bomb.

(330.3202) WISE Amsterdam - The report says the genealogist, Dr. Wilfried Feichtinger, and US scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Fertility and Hormone Center in New York have succeeded in proving the presence of radioactive cesium-137 and -134 in both follicular fluid surrounding the female ovum and in male semen. The report says further that their findings indicate that long-lasting exposure to Cesium-137 may result in infertility.

Dr. Feichtinger and his US colleagues took samples of follicular fluid obtained during oocyte retrievals in 74 European women and 25 US women and examined them for the presence of Cs 137 and 134 over a two-year period following the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Of the samples from the European women, mainly Austrian, 54% were found to be contaminated with Cs 137 and 40% with Cs 134.

According to Dr. Feichtinger, who is a guest-professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and described by the APA report as being one of the two medical fathers of the first Austrian 'test-tube babies', "These are the after-effects of the reactor catastrophe at Chernobyl. The data from the US also showed Cs 137 in the follicles, which, probably not coming from the USSR, could be an indication that a long-lasting exposure to Cs 137 causes sterilization among women."

As formulated by Feichtinger and his fellow researchers, the starting point of the research had been: "After the Chernobyl accident, radioactive Cs 137 and 134 was found everywhere in Europe in the soil, in breastmilk, in the placenta (of pregnant women). The question remained open as to whether the radioactive materials also had found access to the region of the germ cells: the follicular fluid and the semen."

"We did the research on Cs 137 and Cs 134 in the follicular fluid in our Institute for Infertility care in Vienna, in connection with invitro-fertilization," said Feich- tinger in the APA report. "Our colleagues at the Albert Einstein College did the same thing in New York. We started in 1986 and used data gathered until 1988. In addition we carried out research on semen in Vienna. The tests were carried out at the atomic institute of the Austrian universities."

The results from Vienna: Between June and August 1986, out of 13 follicular fluid samples, one was found to be contaminated with Cesium-137. The contaminated sample was from an American woman who, says Dr. Feichtinger, probably had not received the contamination as a result of the Chernobyl accident, but from atomic testing. The halflife of Cesium-137 being approximately 30 years and that of cesium, two years.

Then came the after-effects of the reactor accident of April 1986: from the nine samples that were researched between November 1986 and January 1987, five contained Cesium-137 (56%). Between June and August 1987 there was a peak: of 56 samples, 36 (or 71%) were contaminated with Cesium-137. And out of 35 of the samples contaminated with Cesium-137, 27 were found to also contain Cesium-134, for the first time. From March to June 1988, radioactive contamination was found in six out of 10 samples.

Following the Chernobyl accident, several radioactive clouds passed over Austria. The first reached Austria on 29 April 1986. Others were registered on 30 April and 1 May. According to Feichtinger, men were harder hit than women, at least in terms of his research on specific areas of the reproduction cycle. "Out of 28 semen samples that were measured during the same period," he says, "12 turned out to be contaminated (43%). There were differences with the follicular fluid in development and height of the measured values during that period. The contamination with cesium of semen samples was a factor ten times higher than that of the follicular fluid," wrote Feichtinger and his fellow researchers. Between June and August 1987 almost 50% of the control people were contaminated; in March 1988, "only" about 35%.

According to the tests, the Cesium137 contamination in the semen reached a peak between June and August 1987 of about 0.06 picocuries per milliliter. In that period the Cesium-134 had increased to 0.04 per milliliter.

With regard to the data from the US, where the follicular fluid of 25 women was examined, 28% were found to be contaminated with the Cesium-137. None, however, showed Cesium-134. For Dr. Feichtinger this is an indication that the US women did not receive the cesium from Chernobyl but from another source: probably the earlier atomic weapons testing.

Interpretation of these results is not simple, says the Viennese research team. To complicate interpretation further, researchers found that the sperm in the semen samples found contaminated with radioactive cesium behaved under the microscope more actively than the sperm in uncontaminated samples. But clearly there are alarming indications, Feichtinger wrote. "All the women that were examined in the US were found to be sterile. Among the women examined in Vienna, no such difference in fertility between the contaminated women and uncontaminated women was found. This may mean that a long-lasting exposure to Cesium-137 is resulting in sterility."


  • APA news report (Austria), 27 Feb. 1990
  • Notice of submission to the Society of Gynecologic Investigation of the paper, "Radioactive Cesium in Follicular Fluid and Reproductive Performance", 20 november 1989
  • Letter from Dr. Alex Tollmann, 5 March 1990.

Contact: For further information, write Dr. Alex Tollmann, Arbeitsgemeinschaft Nein Zur Atomenergie Ja Zur Umwelt, Schelbenbergstrasse 53/6, 1180 Vienna, Austria.