Sort of a backdoor approach to eliminating nuclear testing.
"Dr. Louise Reiss, Who Helped Ban Atomic Testing, Dies at 90"
January 10th, 2011
The New York Times
January 10th, 2011
The New York Times
Dr. Louise Reiss, who directed a study that examined hundreds of thousands of baby teeth during the cold war and helped persuade the world’s leading powers to ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere, died Jan. 1 at her home in Pinecrest, Fla. She was 90.
Her son, Eric, confirmed her death.
Dr. Reiss and her husband, Eric, both physicians, were founding members of the Greater St. Louis Citizens’ Committee for Nuclear Information, which joined with the schools of dentistry at Washington University in St. Louis and St. Louis University in 1959 to create the Baby Tooth Survey.
The goal was to show that radioactive fallout from nuclear testing was getting into the nation’s food supply and ultimately working its way into human bones and teeth. And the study succeeded.
Dr. Reiss was named director of the project and, along with her husband, worked with other scientists in the project’s laboratory.
Over the next 12 years, the project collected nearly 320,000 baby teeth. Dr. Reiss, who was director for two years, organized the campaign. Young donors received badges bearing gap-toothed cartoon faces declaring, “I gave my tooth to science.”
As The Nation reported in June 1959: “Dr. Louise Reiss and her assistants have had extraordinary success in getting local schools — public, private and parochial — to help in the teeth collecting. Some 250,000 forms have been distributed to reach all lower-grade students. At present, baby teeth are reaching the little office on West Pine Boulevard at the rate of about 50 a day.”
The teeth were sent to the laboratory at Washington University, which tested them for strontium 90, one of more than 100 chemicals created in nuclear explosions and reactors. Strontium 90 is chemically similar to calcium and, when ingested in food and water, attaches to bones and teeth. It is radioactive and known to cause cancer.
The study ultimately found that children born in St. Louis in 1963 had 50 times as much strontium 90 in their teeth as children born in 1950 — before most of the atomic tests. Its initial findings were published in the journal Science in 1961 and came to the attention of President John F. Kennedy as he negotiated with the Soviet Union for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing.
From 1945 to 1963, the United States tested 206 nuclear weapons in the atmosphere — 100 in Nevada and 106 in the South Pacific — while the Soviet Union conducted 216 such tests. Fallout was swept away by prevailing winds and returned through precipitation, some of it falling on farms and dairies.
In June 1963, Dr. Reiss’s husband presented the findings in testimony before a Senate committee in support of a treaty. Two months later, the Partial Test Ban Treaty between the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain was signed.
Dr. Reiss was proud that the project achieved its aims through science rather than politics. “I continue to be moved by the knowledge that a group of organized people can effectively pressure government if they come up with data instead of rhetoric,” she wrote in a letter to a colleague in the study in 1996.
The Baby Tooth Survey ended in 1970. During a second testing phase, it found a 50 percent decline in strontium 90 in children born in 1968, compared with those born five years earlier, immediately after the treaty went into effect.
Dr. Reiss was central to the project, said Barry Commoner, an environmental scientist who was one of the founders of the survey. “She was responsible for day-to-day handling of the material,” he said, “and helped coordinate the whole scientific project.”
Louise Marie Zibold was born in Queens on Feb. 23, 1920, to Carl and Marie Zibold. After receiving her medical degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1945, she met her future husband while a resident at Philadelphia General Hospital. The couple moved to St. Louis in 1954 after he accepted a position at the Washington University Medical School. She worked as an internist with the City Health Department.
Dr. Eric Reiss died in 1988. Besides her son, Dr. Reiss is survived by two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
The impact of the tooth survey has increased. In 2001, Washington University recovered 85,000 teeth not used in the original study that it had stored in a World War II ammunition bunker 20 miles west of St. Louis. Each tooth was in a small envelope attached to a card identifying its donor.
The university gave the collection to the Radiation and Public Health Project, an independent research group, which, in a new study, addressed an issue not examined in the original survey: cancer risks from fallout, rather than just measurements of strontium 90 levels.
Last month, results of the new study were published in The International Journal of Health Services. Its principal finding, based on a small sample, was that the donors from the original project who died of cancer by age 50 had more than twice the average strontium 90 levels of donors who were healthy at 50, suggesting that higher levels of the chemical raised cancer risk.
“Our study is just a step in the effort to understand how many Americans were harmed by atom bomb fallout,” said Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project. “We plan to continue this work by testing more teeth and addressing diseases in addition to cancer, such as thyroid disease and genetic defects.”
Louise Reiss [Wikipedia]