Chernobyl `not to blame' for island cancers

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The Independent Online

Health Editor

A preliminary inquiry into a possible association between the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and a rise in cancers on a Scottish island has ruled out a causal link pending further analysis.

The Western Isles Health Board said yesterday there had been no rise in the number of cancer cases and those that had been diagnosed were not radiation-induced.

However, a more detailed investigation of the cancers on Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides is now underway and will be published before the end of the month, the Board said.

The study followed a report in the Independent on Sunday in which a local GP had said that the number of cancers diagnosed had tripled in 18 months.

Dr Francis Tierney had suggested that radioactive fallout from the Chernobyl explosion in 1986 could be a factor in a small population whose diet was dependent on home-grown food.

The radioactive cloud generated by the disaster passed over the islands at a time of heavy rain. Local people reported a red dust fell at the time.

Dr Tierney stressed that the Chernobyl hypothesis was just one among several worthy of investigation to explain 19 cases in an 18-month period compared with an expected figure of about six. The type of cancers - aggressive adenocarcinomas or solid cell tumours of the digestive tract and the lung - were also a cause for concern.

The Board said that one cancer a month for the area served by the Griminish Surgery, where Dr Tierney works, was not unusual. Bruce Skilbeck, chief executive, said the cancers discovered were "typical" of the type to be expected in the population and no cancer related to radiation had been found.

But Dr Tierney said yesterday the findings gave insufficient information to make a proper judgement. "They do nothing to confirm or deny a considerable increase over the last five years."