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The Tooth Fairy project

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
Special: Women respond to the nuclear threat

(May 11, 1999) Parents and teachers in the US are sending their children's baby teeth to the Tooth Fairy Project to be tested for the radioactive form of strontium. When taken in by a pregnant woman, the radioactive contaminants are transferred to her developing child. The study is being conducted by the non-profit group, Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP).

(509/10.5010) Radiation and Public Health Project - Before the dawn of the atomic age our bodies were generally free of radioactive elements. Radiation pollution essentially began in 1945 with the dropping of nuclear bombs on Japan, and increased with bomb tests worldwide. Following those original tests in the Pacific atolls and the operation of hundreds of nuclear power plants, the levels of strontium, known simply as Sr-90, has risen from essentially zero. Sr-90 is relatively stable with a half-life of some 28 years; the half-life is the time for half of the original amount to decay.

Sr-90 is not the only radioactive chemical created by nuclear power plants and bombs. From these sources, rain and winds carry nuclear contaminants onto the land and water, where it mixes with water and food such as grains, meat and dairy products. When taken in by a pregnant woman, the radioactive contaminants are transferred to her developing child.

Similar to calcium, Sr-90 concentrates in the bone and teeth of a developing fetus, thus it is independent of sex, race, occupation, and reflects solely the child's earlier exposer. Chronic exposure to low levels of radiation builds up over time. This is similar to the deposition that occurs from exposure to chemicals such as PCBS, PBBS and dioxins which become stored in the body's fat. When the child reaches the age of six, its discarded teeth is an irrefutable record of the amount of Sr-90 present in the diet of its mother during pregnancy.

This Tooth Fairy Project is not the first study of baby teeth, but it is perhaps one of the most critical. With the exception of perhaps the peoples affected by Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and those with some environmental awareness, we have become complacent about nuclear radiation in our midst. This complacency has occurred worldwide, even in the face of increasing cancer rates among adults and children.

A previous study was begun in 1958, by Dr. Barry Commoner, then a young biology professor, who persuaded his local dental society to help gather baby teeth to document if children had radioactive material in their bodies. Prior to 1945, levels of radioactive strontium were zero. Children born in the early 1950s had the lowest detectable levels of 0.1 picocurie. By 1965, two years after radiation releases from the peak bomb test years had rained out, children's teeth measured 5 picocuries per gram of calcium, or a fifty-fold increase. This starling evidence of contamination was presented to the Congress of the US by Dr. Ernest Sternglass. This in part led to the signing by President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev of the Partial Test Ban in 1963, which stopped aboveground nuclear bomb testing by the US, USSR and UK.

Sr-90 levels gradually declined until 1979 when there began a slow but uninterrupted increase from 1982 to 1997. A more recent study was undertaken by Dr. Ronald Scholz of the Otto Hug Radiation Institute in Munich (Germany). He began testing baby teeth in conjunction with the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the group awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Dr. Scholz found that teeth of German babies which measured approximately 0.1 picocuries in 1983 had increase 10-fold to 1.0 picocurie per gram of calcium in children whose mothers had been exposed to the Chernobyl radiation fallout. The German findings were validated by Romanian radiochemists, headed by Dr. Elene Botezatu, which found in children born in 1986-87 a level of 4.2 picocuries per gram of calcium as against 0.07 for children born in the prior five-year period, associating a 70-fold increase with the Chernobyl fallout.

The sparks behind the Tooth Fairy Project come from some very extraordinary people. The leaders in the US have been Drs. Ernest Sternglass, Jay Gould and John Gofman, and in Canada, Drs. Rosalie Bertell and Hari Sharma. These "senior citizen" scientists are all experienced in the field with 1000-watt brains and 100% found near nuclear facilities. They have been joined by additional scientists, receiving non-governmental financial backing from businessmen David Friedson and the actor Alec Baldwin.

The immediate impetus for the study is the high cancer rates in the eastern part of the US (in Long Island and New Jersey), heretofore explained away by "lifestyle" or largely dismissed as too complex to study. As a start, Drs. Gould and Sternglass re-analyzed the US governmental study of cancer around nuclear facilities and came to quite different conclusions from that of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Contrary to the official NCI policy they found significantly elevated rates of breast cancer around various nuclear power plants, when they took into account downwind distribution of nuclear contamination. In addition to cancer, these researchers have found significant adverse effects in children, including low birth weight and premature infant deaths.

These findings place quite a different emphasis on the issue of nuclear fallout. This fallout comes not from bomb testing and reactor accidents, but from legal operations and commercial facilities.

The research of the Tooth Fairy Project is to document more recent levels of Sr-90 in children's teeth and compare the levels from different areas, to determine if there is a pattern, coincident with areas of radiation releases, and illnesses in children and their mothers. Collection of teeth and performing the analyses may not be the most difficult part of the process. Although the research is costly, requires accuracy and is time-consuming, the public health policy implications will be enormous. If continuing measurements validate the early findings of elevated levels of Sr-90 in the teeth of children from Long Island and New Jersey, the scientists from the Radiation and Public Health Project must grapple with the difficulty of bringing this terrifying evidence to the attention of the public.

This information will undoubtedly be challenged by the nuclear and public relations industry which has captivated much of the major media, which are so obsessed with trivia they have ignored evidence for the past half century.

There is no denying that there will be significant costs to ending nuclear power, particularly at a time when the price of unrenewable fossil fuels inevitably rises as deposits run out. The storage of radioactive rods presents engineering safety and security challenges far beyond any required to build nuclear bombs. Realistic and achievable remedies exist in furthering development of wind and solar energy sources, without which human society cannot survive in the long run. Still, the political and economic barriers may be the greatest of all.

The Tooth Fairy Project, as with previous similar studies, will show how much and where nuclear pollution has occurred. It appears that citizens, worldwide, are demanding a world free of pollution so that children may thrive, not merely survive.

Source: Jay M. Gould, PH.D. and Janette D. Sherman, M.D.
Dr. Gould is head of the Radiation and Public Health Project and author of The Enemy Within: the High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors.
Dr. Sherman, a physician, is a Research Associate of the Radiation and Health Project. She is the author of Chemical Exposure and Disease and a soon-to-be-released book: Life's Delicate Balance: Causes and Prevention of Breast Cancer.

Contact: Radiation and Public Health Project
302 W. 86th Street, Suite 11B, New York, NY 10024, USA
Tel: +1-212-496 6787; Fax: +1-212-362 0348
WWW: and

The Tooth Fairy Project depends entirely on private (not government) contributions. It cost approximately US$90.00 to assay each tooth. All tooth contributions are voluntary. We do want to extend the project to other countries.
If you want to send a tooth (or teeth) to the project, please send them to:

RPHP, PO Box 60, Unionville, NY 10988 USA

It is better to contact the Tooth Fairy Project first at: or check out the website.