Editorial

The most alarming thing about strontium 90— the cabinet is not alarmed

June 6 1959
Editorial

The most alarming thing about strontium 90— the cabinet is not alarmed

June 6 1959

The most alarming thing about strontium 90— the cabinet is not alarmed

Editorial

AMONG MANY ALARMING THINGS in the latest report on radioactive strontium 90 in Canadian milk, the most alarming of all was a statement by J. W. Monteith, minister of national health, when he tabled the report in parliament.

“Our findings.” said Mr. Monteith, “indicate no basis for alarm.”

Here are some of the findings that the minister believed to be so reassuring:

1. The amount of strontium 90 found in the bone structure of the average Canadian adult has more than tripled in the last four years.

2. About two and a half times as much of this bonedestroying poison occurs in Canadian milk today as occurred two years ago.

3. Since 1955 the level of strontium 90 in Canadian milk has risen steadily. Plotted on a graph the rise appears as a straight line which, if projected, would reach in about fifteen years the “maximum permissible level” set by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.

4. That “permissible maximum” was set tour years ago, when the increase in strontium 90 levels had barely begun. The commission is now recommending a new maximum which, says the report, will probably “suggest a smaller factor for this purpose.” Translated out of officialese, this means that strontium 90 is even more poisonous than scientists formerly believed, and so they are revising their safety levels downward.

The fact is that nobody knows how dangerous it is. Strontium 90 does not occur in nature. It is a man-made product of nuclear fission — one of the hornets that were let out of Pandora’s Box when the first atomic bomb was tested in 1945. No one, however wise or learned, has had any opportunity to study the effect of strontium 90 for longer than fourteen years.

As late as the middle Twenties, a quarter century after Madame Curie and her husband discovered radium, doctors were still prescribing radioactive medicines to be taken by mouth for gout, arthritis and various other diseases. A year after nine people had died from the effect of their work in painting luminous dials, one doctor reported that “an industrial hazard does not exist” in this occupation. Many more had to die of radiation injury, including the codiscoverer Marie Curie herself, before the deadliness of this new menace began to be fully understood.

The report on strontium 90 was tabled just four days after Prime Minister Diefenbaker had made a brief report to the House on another threat to Canadian interests — the refusal of United States customs authorities to allow passage in bond of a truckload of shrimps from Red China. It appeared, from the tone of the questions and answers, that all parties regard this as a pretty serious infringement by Uncle Sam on Canada’s rights and privileges.

Without disputing the obvious gravity of the Communist shrimp issue, we suggest that the health of our unborn children is even more important. And we’d be less alarmed if Canada’s ministers could manage to find some “basis for alarm” in the obvious fact that the continued testing of nuclear weapons is poisoning the whole human race.