HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- A 13-year study of people living near the Three Mile Island nuclear plant found no link between the radiation released during the 1979 accident and cancer deaths among nearby residents.
The University of Pittsburgh study, posted on the Internet on Thursday, should give some reassurance to people who live near the site of the nation's worst commercial nuclear accident. But it does not eliminate the need to continue monitoring their health, the lead researcher said.
The accident, triggered by equipment malfunction and operator error on March 28, 1979, caused about a third of the nuclear fuel
to melt inside a reactor just outside Middletown, about 10 miles from Harrisburg.
The plant's owners maintain that only a negligible amount of radiation escaped from the plant.
At least 15 other studies have explored the health effects of the accident, but the University of Pittsburgh research covers the
longest time span so far -- from the time of the accident through 1992.
It follows more than 32,000 people who lived within five miles of the plant and who were interviewed by state health workers within two months of the accident.
Researchers found no significant increase in cancer deaths among nearby residents when compared to a larger population in three
counties surrounding the plant, said Evelyn Talbott, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.
Researchers were unable to factor in other potential influences on the results, nor were they able to say whether stress stemming from the accident had a long-term impact on residents' health, Talbott said.
"There are a lot of things that cause cancer and a lot of things that need to be measured," she said. "We can only measure so many of them."
The study did find increases in certain types of cancer, but it failed to turn up a link to the dosages of radiation that residents were believed to have received, she said.
Talbott said further study is needed. Many cancers can remain latent for two decades or more, and the university's researchers are obtaining the data needed for a 20-year study.
One anti-nuclear activist, Eric Epstein, was skeptical of the study, saying the state's original survey of residents was flawed.
He has called for studies extending 10 miles from the plant.
"This is just a recitation of the industry line. It is
absolutely nothing new," said Epstein.
The study was posted on the Internet site of Environmental Health Perspectives. The paper will appear in the June issue of the journal, which is produced by the National Institute of
Environmental Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.
On the Net: Abstract of article:
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:http://www.niehs.nih.gov
Three Mile Island Alert: http://www.tmia.com/