Article published Oct 12, 2006
Thyroditis linked to fallout

HURRICANE – A study conducted by several agencies and researchers, including University of Utah professor Joseph L. Lyon, indicates a much stronger association than previously believed between fallout from testing at the Nevada Test Site during the 1950s and thyroid conditions.

The conclusion to the study, which will be published in the Nov. 1 journal “Epidemiology,” indicates that persons exposed to radioactive iodine as children have an increased risk of thyroid neoplasms and autoimmune thyroiditis up to 30 years after exposure.

What was surprising to Lyon was that benign neoplasms, a precursor for cancerous lesions, was elevated in this group, but unfortunately, he said, the government halted testing last year.

Thyroiditis strikes about 1 percent of the population, Lyon said.

“There were about 10,000 people in Washington County in 1950, and you would affect hundreds,” Lyon said. “The only problem we are looking at is the risk can occur over a lifetime, unlike leukemia where children died within 10 years of the testing. Here, it’s still developing so it would be hard to say how many hundreds of people exposed would have been affected.”

The report didn’t come as a surprise to St. George resident and downwinder Michelle Thomas who participated in thyroid studies for decades.

“Many children (who are) now adults had thyroid nodules and thyroids removed and some have been on thyroid medicine for years,” Thomas said. “For those of us who were part of the study, we didn’t need to wait for any study to tell us something we already knew. We are living, breathing evidence.”

Lyon said the recent study was a follow-up of one done in 1985 and 1986. However, after the last round of examinations the government halted the testing.

“Basically, the government decided they didn’t want to know any more information,” Lyon said. “Our government is spending money in Russia to follow kids after Chernobyl, yet they are not interested in finding anything out about their own citizens.”

Lyon said one group in the United States received the same exposure as Chernobyl. There were 3,500 people in his test group. Lyon said he needed another three to four years of testing because there may be other risks that have not yet been anticipated.

Thyroiditis, Lyon said, is treatable. Those diagnosed are prescribed a daily medication that they need to take for the rest of their lives.

Although some people develop an enlarged thyroid, Lyon said other symptoms include fatigue.

The presence of neoplasm, although non-cancerous, placed persons at a much higher risk of developing cancer.

“Stopping the funding (for testing) doesn’t make sense, especially since we are funding studies in Russia,” Lyon said. “In terms of the United States, there is no political interest in knowing and it was virtually the same exposure.”