You care about your well-being. You might exercise at the gym, do yoga, or just walk outside everyday. You might take supplements, drink your electrolytes, and check your urine PH every week. You might eat healthy, make sure that you consume fresh fruits and vegetables everyday, buy only organics, and look for locally grown food. You might do all the right things you know to keep yourself healthy, and you hope to be rewarded with great health and longevity, but is this enough?
Last week a friend sent me an article reporting that in the past three years a growing number of babies in the Yakima Valley area in Washington State were born with anencephaly – a serious birth defect in which babies are born without parts of their brain or skull. In the past three years, 23 cases of anencephaly were reported in the area, four times more than the national average.
The Yakima Valley is a beautiful rural area located in south central Washington, 140-miles/225km southeast of Seattle. The valley is known for its fertile volcanic soil and is the home for many local wineries, apple orchards, and other agricultural fields. It’s a vacation destination for both local Washingtonians and outside tourists.
Yakima Valley is also the home of the Hanford Site. The Hanford Site is 586 square miles (1,518 km2) land, sitting beside the Columbia River, and is the most contaminated nuclear site in the northern hemisphere. During WWII this site was part of the Manhattan Project, where the American Government developed the Plutonium that was used in the bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. After the war, the area became the biggest nuclear waste graveyard in the USA: two-thirds of the nation's high-level radioactive waste by volume, to be specific. In 1989 the US government started to clean up the area hoping to restore the environment back to what it used to be. It was supposed to end in 2008, but by then the cleaning was not even half done. In October 2011 one of the nuclear waste tanks started to leak into the soil. The news about the leak was released to the public only in August 2012. In February 2013 six more tanks were found to be leaking. Earlier this month (March, 2014) another leak was reported.
Back to the mysterious cases on anencephaly in the Yakima Valley, the government officials who investigated the case reported to not have found the answer. Locals are still suspicious of these findings, or the lack thereof. There is a strong feeling that the government is trying to hide some scary facts from the public, facts that might relate the nuclear waste leak to the growing cases of anencephaly in the area.
I was curious to check if anencephaly was a common birth defect in other nuclear disaster stricken areas. A quick Google search of “Hiroshima anencephaly”, “Chernobyl anencephaly”, and “Fukushima anencephaly” yielded some interesting results. Apparently anencephaly was a common birth defect in both Japan, post WWII, and in the post 1986 Chernobyl area, including the eastern Black Sea region of Turkey. In Japan, post 2011 Fukushima disaster, the government still refuses to release the statistics, but there is evidence of increasing rates of birth defects. The scale of the effect is unclear yet.
Today nuclear power is used in many countries as an energy source: France and Germany, for example. I assume that every country makes an extreme effort to avoid any dangerous incidents in their nuclear power plants, yet there are always unknown factors, like what had happened in Fukushima. More than the safety of nuclear power plants around the world, there is a big issue of nuclear waste. It takes 24,100 years for Plutonium to decay, meaning hundreds of generations are doomed to live with dangerous toxic waste. Who makes sure this waste is well sealed? Who is responsible to ensure the safety of the environment and the local residents? Is there a local protocol in case of a leak?
Until the US government will reveal the cause for the growing number of anencephaly in the Yakima Valley, and until the Hanford Site is cleared and free of any nuclear waste, is it really safe to live there? Is it safe to drink the local water? Is it safe to drink the local wines and eat the local produce?