Chernobyl link to cancer cluster on Scottish island

A SHARP rise in cancer cases on a Scottish island is being linked to radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl explosion a decade ago.

Doctors on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides say the number of cancers has more than tripled in the past 18 months. They are demanding urgent investigation of the alarming rise, which they believe could be the result of people eating contaminated home grown vegetables, and locally produced mutton, venison, and seafood, over 10 years.

The explosion in Reactor 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear plant 60 miles from Kiev in the Ukraine, the world's worst nuclear disaster, happened in the early hours of 26 April 1986, releasing 150 million curies of radioactivity into the air. The radioactive cloud or plume it generated passed over the Western Isles of Scotland between 3 and 4 May, coinciding with heavy rainfall, which is known to increase the chances of contamination on the ground.

The cancers now being reported are largely of the digestive tract, with some lung tumours. These are consistent with the possibility that people ingested or inhaled radioactive material. Men in their 40s and 50s, and particularly those with some farming background, are worst affected. However, the NHS Breast Screening Programme, based in Inverness, has also reported a higher than expected number of breast cancers for the island.

In one small township, Creagorry, four people with cancer live within a few doors of each other. In nearby Torlun, residents can point to the houses of five victims along a road less than a mile-and-a-half long.

Dr Francis Tierney, a GP at the Griminish surgery on Benbecula who first noted the rise, said: "It is certainly not uncommon to get these kind of cancers in this group, but it is unusual to see so many.

"The increase is largely in people who have lived here for at least 10 years, not in those who arrived more recently. The Chernobyl hypothesis is just one of many ... but it is a question worth asking. What I would like to see is someone coming in and looking to see if it is a real increase and is it more so than in other areas. It may be a statistical blip."

Dr Andrew Senior, a partner in the practice and a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, says 19 new cancers have been reported since late 1994, when the expected number would be about six. "It is the (gut) cancers that concern me ... I would expect one or two a year, but there have been two pancreatic tumours, five or six valve tumours. That is three times more than you would expect ... and these are in fit people, outdoor crofters. It is quite unusual ... Chernobyl is not unreasonable."

Other parts of Scotland, notably the south-west coast, and parts of Northern England and Wales, had heavier rainfalls. But any rises in the number of cases of cancer linked to Chernobyl in those areas would probably take longer to detect because their populations are larger and more widespread than in Benbecula and less reliant on home- grown food. The island, which is about six miles across and has a population of about 1800, is a close- knit community and the rise in cancer victims is a talking point.

Monitoring radioactivity levels following the Chernobyl disaster in Benbecula and neighbouring North and South Uist, Lewis and Harris, did not begin in earnest until August 1986 when members of the Western Isles Council became concerned at reports of contamination in other parts of Scotland, Cumbria, and Wales.

A ban on movement of sheep on Benbecula and North Uist was introduced shortly after, when some animals were found to have more than twice the "actionable" level of radioactivity in their bodies. Shellfish were also found to have suffered severe contamination in the first weeks of May.

Bryan Barrett, assistant director of environmental health for the council, said he had written to the health board on two occasions for data with little result. Radioactivity levels in Benbecula and other islands were not routinely monitored before 1986, he said, and this made it difficult to assess the significance of readings taken since then.

"There were relatively high levels of radioactivity in Benbecula, but these diminished relatively quickly ... our monitoring has indicated that there isn't a problem," he said.

The Western Isles Health Board yesterday declined to comment on the Chernobyl hypothesis, but said it would investigate the rise in cancer cases on Benbecula.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines