Last updated on March 1, 2013
A few weeks ago there were some absurd information posted on the BSRRW web site, portraying our favourite alarmist Chris Busby (who recently turned into a quack) in some sort of road movie. In this movie he is accompanied by Ditta Rietuma, member of the supporter club BSRRW, as well as the Baltic Sea Regional Office of the ECRR (sounds fancy, doesn’t it?). First they go to Socialstyrelsen (The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare) in order to request data from the cancer registry for the purpose of investigating cancer rates after Chernobyl, with the supposed increased effect from the Baltic Sea (the world’s most radioactive sea, as they call it).
Below is a transcript of what Busby says before entering Socialstyrelsen:
Here we are. Ok I’m standing outside the Socialstyrelsen in Stockholm. This is the social welfare place that involves itself with human health, and the director, the medical director of this outfit is Lars-Erik Holm who is the ex-director of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. So this is a little like putting Genghin Khan in charge of something. Because this guy, Lars-Erik Holm, believes that radiation is safe and can’t harm you, and he says that the outcome of the Chernobyl accident is that there were just a few thyroid cancers and that’s it.
So we’re going in now to talk to some apparatchik here, trying to get data on cancer. Because of course the Baltic Sea is very radioactive and we want to see if it’s having any effect on the people who are living on the shores of the Baltic Sea. So, we’re going to try to get the data, but of course so far they’ve said that they’re not going to give us the data.
So we’re going to see what kind of data that we can get, and put a little bit of pressure on them, you know, about this matter, which is really essentially a question about human rights. Because after all if you have a country and you have a government and you have a Socialstyrelsen, that are supposed to look after the people, but actually allows the north to die of cancer because the director of the outfit happens to be a nuclear industry stooge from way back. Then this is a matter of human rights, and at some point it has to go to court.
Some statement indeed, sounds pretty serious. And it is quite some claim that the director of Socialstyrelsen is payed by the nuclear industry to allow people in northern Sweden to die from cancer. Typical scaremongering from a scaremonger, but hardly a typical behaviour from a person who claims to be professor and scientist (and makes a big deal about others who are not).
Busby leaves Socialstyrelsen after having been denied the data. The second part of the road movie (here) shows Busby and Rietuma, on a motorcycle, delivering a letter of complaint to the Chancellor of Justice, with the title “Human Rights and Environmental Protection Laws addressing the issue of the most radioactive sea in the world – The Baltic Sea.”
The letter of complaint is signed by the following notable persons:
- Chris Busby — Scientific secretary of the ECRR
- Ditta Rietuma — General secretary of the Baltic Sea Regional office, ECRR
- Roland von Malmborg — Chairman of the Baltic Sea Regional Radioactivity Watch NGO
- Åke Sundström — Board of the International Foundation for Research on Radioactivity Risk
- Olle Johansson — ECRR group at the Karolinska Institute
The signatories reveal some interesting information regarding their supporter clubs. For instance we find that Karolinska Institutet, who awards the Nobel Price in Physiology or Medicine, has an ECRR group. Are there more members than Olle Johansson at KI? It is at least a relief to see that he is not a member of the Nobel Assembly (here). Then we find a connection between Åke Sundström and the mysterious IFRRR web site which sponsors some of the ECRR work. Good to know that it isn’t some Russian gas company behind it, there are enough conspiracy theories floating around as it is.
The complaint starts with referring to various declarations and resolutions from the United Nations and other organisations regarding people’s fundamental rights of good health and environment. In summary, they state that the public authorities in each country should protect the environment of its population and give adequate information about the environment and related health risks. If this is not done, they should be taken to national court, and if such a court process is not given, the matter is to be taken to the international court. Sounds pretty reasonable to me, if you have a valid claim.
After this introduction the main part of the complaint starts:
“Now therefore we refer to the matter of: Widespread radioactive pollution of the Baltic Sea and Baltic Sea coasts and projects involving further such contamination:”
Hm, we have heard these claims before, haven’t we? They were not valid then, are they now? Let’s return to that issue later on, now we continue with the letter of complaint. There are 7 points being made:
- 1. Much information on the radioactivity of the Baltic Sea region is missing. Whilst some information on the current levels of environmental contamination is available in scientific literature, the public is left uninformed. Missing is even the interpretation in terms of effects of environmental contamination on public health (see below). The issue is not properly discussed, nor is it open to such discussion by those citizens affected by environmental degradation. Huge efforts are made to limit pollution from cigarette smoke even though the evidence of ill health from passive smoking is weaker than the evidence of ill health due to radioactive contamination following Chernobyl effects in Sweden (Martin Tondel et al., 2004)
Missing information? Well, the HELCOM documentation is out there for anybody to read. And for those who have the patience to read the full report on radioactivity in the Baltic Sea, rather than BSRRW’s cherry picked extract, it is clear that the radioactivity is of some concern but hardly the most urgent environmental matter for the Baltic Sea. If Busby and his supporter gang really cared about bringing the information out to the public they could do much better than spreading the misinformation that nuclear power plants are the main source of the radioactivity in the Baltic Sea. For the record, there is a contribution of radioactivity to the Baltic Sea from the running plants, but it is only about 0.04% of the total amount, more than 80% comes from the Chernobyl accident. And besides a number of hot spots in the bottom sediments, which admittedly are of some concern, the levels of radioactivity in the sea water, and in fish, are not near any values where health effects can be suspected. Furthermore, the total amount of man-made radioactivity in the Baltic Sea amounts to about 30% of the natural levels. This is information that you will not find if you choose to listen to Busby and BSRRW (credit to the anti-nuclear group MILKAS for keeping the presentation by Sven P. Nielsen on their web site).
The claim about weak evidence for ill effects due to passive smoking is quite remarkable. There have been some controversy on the issue, but mainly due to studies sponsored by the tobacco industry. So it is interesting to see that Busby and his gang choose to disregard most of the scientific studies on the issue (see for instance the Wikipedia page on passive smoking) and prefers to side with the tobacco industry. All this in order to try to make the point that the evidence for health effects in Sweden after the Chernobyl accident are better established.
So what are the evidence? There are, to my knowledge, only two studies regarding health effects due to Chernobyl in Sweden:
- The first is the highly criticized PhD thesis by Tondel. Besides the fact that the opponent more or less cut it into pieces, it had the extraordinary feature that the PhD thesis jury gave a statement that they did not agree with any of the conclusions drawn in the thesis, but that they let it pass because the defendant had fulfilled the formal provisions for a PhD thesis (analysis work, publications in peer review, etc.). Here are a few links about the debate that followed in the Swedish medical doctor’s magazine Läkartidningen: Holm et al., and Tondel et al’s response. Oh, by the way, some people might find it to be of interest that one of Tondel’s supervisors is Lennart Hardell.
- The second is Chris Busby’s attempt to scare the population around the Baltic Sea with data from Socialstyrelsen’s cancer statistics data base (available to the public here), where he claimed an increase in breast cancer in counties bordering the Baltic Sea, while there was no increase in inland counties. It turned out to be a very lousy attempt of cherry-picking, where he (1) disregards the data that falsifies his theory, (2) does not correct for the general linear increase of breast cancer that is evident in the data from 1970 and on, (3) ignores the fact that breast cancer screening was introduced in some of the counties during the time period, giving a temporal increase in the incidence rates, and (4) makes an alarmistic press statement about his so called research findings. Below is a picture showing the data used by Busby, but I have added the counties that he did not include. More information is given in my report from the BSRRW meeting in Stockholm, August 2010 (here).
So to claim that there are good evidence for “ill health due to radioactive contamination following Chernobyl effects in Sweden” is a bit…wrong.
And if they really think that the public is left uninformed about some issues (the real ones that is, not the fake ones made up by Busby), why not write to the public opinion pages on newspapers and bring it up for public debate, rather than starting off with writing complaints to the Chancellor of Justice?
- 2. Such discussion and consultation is essential to inform on the potential harm of this contamination.
Sure, we need to discuss the environmental status along the Baltic Sea, and possible health effects. Once we have dealt with the high levels of dioxine, the PCBs, the eutrophication, the over fishing, the annual problems with the algea, and the occasional oil spills, then we can start asking ourselves if the radioactivity in the Baltic Sea is something to worry about, i.e. if there is something that the HELCOM studies have missed. But the radioactivity in the sea is not an issue just because a certain self-proclaimed expert and his fan club happens to say so. It could be worth listening to if he had had a serious approach to the issue. Instead he cheated (or was extremely careless in how he handled the data, very remarkable for a person who claims to be professor and scientist) with publicly available data and made an alarmistic press statement about his conclusions. So we can happily have a discussion about the Baltic Sea and its environmental status. But will we learn anything by inviting Chris Busby and the BSRRW supporter club to the meeting? I seriously doubt it. The link below is an example of where BSRRW clearly shows that they, at best, would be a comical side show:
They refer to a study by SKB and the Risö Laboratory where uranium contents in the ground, in sea water, and in plants, have been measured near the Forsmark nuclear plant. After the link to the report comes a very funny comment: “BSRRW: The conclusion that Uranium isotopes around Forsmark NPP do not exceed the natural backgound radiation are based on the wrong ICRP model.” Yep. They actually state that there is something wrong with the measurements because of Busby’s claims about the ICRP model being corrupt when it comes to radiation risk. In other words, they refer to Busby’s claims but clearly show that they have no clue about what it is that he is saying. Some supporter club indeed, or should we say sect?
- 3. Many informational aspects of the contamination levels are not available or have not been obtained through measurements, e.g. (i) sea to land transfer of radionuclide particles and inhalation in coastal environments (ii) concentration of uranium particulates in coastal environments.
Besides once again ignoring all the work through HELCOM, and the SKB/Risö study mentioned above, this is just another shameless attempt to push forward Busby’s cherished idea about a coastal effect. He claims that there is an effect, again on a very loose foundation. When we looked into his claims about Hinkley Point we found that he tried to fit a curve to data that were clearly from a random distribution in order to claim that this effect is real. In the present case we should credit Busby for not referring to any of his earlier claims, it is just words, words, words.
The second point about uranium particulates is a bit ridiculous, not the least when considering the SKB/Risö study mentioned above. Furthermore, Busby and his gang could start with the exercise of estimating how much uranium that is brought into the Baltic Sea every year from the Swedish rivers, they will probably be surprised.
- 4. Private industry continuing contamination of the Baltic (e.g. Studsvik, Fortum, E.ON, Vattenfall, etc) has not been properly made subject to any of the procedures on public participation in decision-making.
No public participation? I don’t know what they are smoking in this case, but if it is not ignorance then it is a lie. The nuclear industry (and some other industries as well) repeatedly has meetings with locals on various issues, including environmental effects (so called “samråd”). There is a continuous process of informing local stakeholders on these issues, and the stakeholders can make their voices heard. This does not mean that the opinions of the local stakeholders will be followed, but they get the chance to get heard, and may appeal to higher instances if they feel that their rights have been sidestepped. Besides that, all the activities are regulated through laws and regulations in order to protect the interests of the people. It is up to goverment authorities, such as the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten) to inspect that these issues are properly handled by the industry. And in case that somebody has missed it, these government authorities are implementing the policies and laws that have been decided in the parliament of Sweden, which since 1921 is a representative democracy with universal suffrage. We can forgive Busby for not being aware of it, but maybe the supporter club could have briefed him on it before they embarked on this ridiculous path?
- 5. Methodology for assessing the effects of such environmental contamination is suspect and has not been opened for discussion e.g. the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) vs. the European Committee on Radiation Risk (ECRR) (1). The Swedish national competent authority SSM (Strålsäkerhetsmyndigheten) is criminally highly irresponsible in that it has not incorporated developments in radiation risk assessment and many recent post-Chernobyl studies which show clearly that its current methodology is unsafe for radiological protection of the public.
I fail to see that Chris Busby’s methods shown so far are any less suspect. SSM is “highly criminally irresponsible”, wow! And their crime turns out to be: they prefer to trust the main scientific knowledge about radiation effects instead of believing in Busby and his methods. Well, put me on the same stand when it is time for the trial.
- 6. Regarding the question of disputed methodology for radiation risk assessment it is a matter of serious conflict of interest that the Medical Officer of Health for Sweden, the head of Socialstyrelsen, is Lars-Erik Holm who was previously head of SSM (previously SSI) and also President of ICRP whose risk model is used to inform risk from such radiation exposure. This is similar to the recent conflict of interest scandal of professor Anders Ahlbom at the Karolinska Institute and mobile phone radiation safety [cf. http://www.monanilsson.se/document/AhlbomConflictsIARCMay23.pdf].
Hm, maybe they should investigate Holm’s job description before they start complaining about it. And once again it would be nice if the supporter club briefed Busby on how the Swedish authorities work, if they know that is. From what we see in the letter of complaint, and what Busby says in the road movie, they are probably convinced of that Lars-Erik Holm is personally deciding on who will get access to the data base.
Besides the fact that Busby has shown himself incapable of not mistreating public data, the road movie gives no hint that he has done anything more than stepping in to Socialstyrelsen with the demand: “I want your data on cancer!” If he had a valid claim in the letter of complaint he would show that he was denied the data after having submitted a well thought out research plan where he intends to investigate blah blah blah, motivated by earlier studies by blah blah blah on blah blah blah, and he intends to perform the research in the following manner, publishing the results in journals such as blah blah blah. Such an application, together with the written refusal from Socialstyrelsen, would be included in the letter of complaint. We have no hint of any of this, all we get is blah blah blah. Some scientist he is, and some supporter club he has, there are motorcycle gangs that behave better than this.
- 7. Small area cancer and other disease incidence data which would inform on these issues is seen as information on the environment and should be subject to the above human rights declarations yet is kept confidential by Socialstyrelsen and Statistiska Centralbyrån in Sweden.
This is an interesting issue. Personally I would prefer if public health data were publically available to a larger extent than what it is today. The reasons for restricting them is mainly due to privacy issues (and to avoid that every self-proclaimed expert makes a lot of fuss by interpreting data in ways that they are clearly not competent to do?). So, what stance to take on the fact that Socialstyrelsen denied Busby access to the detailed data? Considering that he last year used the part of the data that are publically available, and managed to fail big time with handling them in a responsible way, there is no reason to believe that he would manage to handle more detailed data any better. Until he learns how to handle the public data properly, and without making an alarmistic press statement about his findings (whatever they may be), there is no reason for Socialstyrelsen to give him anything. Furthermore, if he has not even requested the data according to the formal procedures, then there are certainly no reasons to sympathize with him and his complaint to the Chancellor of Justice. But we can condemn him for making such a fuss about nothing, and pity him for having such worthless advice from the local fan club on how to deal with government authorities in Sweden.
In some sense, by denying Busby the data, they treat him like a child who needs to learn some manners before being trusted with the good stuff. Chris Busby is 66 years old, so treating him like a child may sound a bit ridiculous. On the other hand, when Socialstyrelsen isn’t giving him the candy that he wants, he goes whining to the Chancellor of Justice, threatening to bring the case to international court. Grow up, kid!
Mattias Lantz – member of the independent network Nuclear Power Yes Please
P.S. For those who didn’t like the road movie above, here is the original. Enjoy the song and the scenery. Just remember to exchange the word “room” for “cancer statistics” in the end and we probably have a fairly good account of the conversation between Chris Busby and the staff at Socialstyrelsen.