Anti-nuclear campaigners have this week released new research that claims women in Burnham-On-Sea have a 43% greater risk of dying from breast cancer than in other parts of the country – but the findings have been strongly disputed by NHS Somerset bosses.

The study by Professor Chris Busby from Green Audit (pictured below) focuses on the period 2005-8 and concludes that the figures are “statistically significant” because Burnham is located downwind of Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

His study, called ‘Breast Cancer Mortality in Burnham-On-Sea – An Update For 2005-2008’, states: “Green Audit has carried out a number of studies of the area downwind and local to the plant and has established the existence of a breast cancer cluster in the wards of Burnham-On-Sea which is the largest population centre directly downwind of the plant and adjacent to the contaminated mudflats at the mouth of the River Parrett.”

“It appears that the breast cancer cluster identified in the earlier mortality studies
continues in the most recent data at a slightly reduced, though still statistically
significant, level.”

“In the period 2005-2008 there was a 43% excess risk for mortality.”

He concedes that the figure is lower than the doubling of risk which was uncovered in a previous study on Burnham breast cancer rates.

Nikki Clark, from the Stop Hinkley campaign group, said: “It is a matter of urgency that a full health audit is done before any decision is reached by the Environment Agency on EDF’s application for an Environmental Permit to discharge radioactivity into our environment. How many more studies does it take to make the authorities wake up? EDF failed to assess the health impacts adequately by using an obsolete software package to calculate doses in their discharge permit application and decision-makers appear to be sleep-walking with regard to health.”

She added: “One desirable avenue for exploration would be to have blood samples from both healthy and ill volunteers from Burnham analysed for chromosome aberrations.”

“There are methodologies that can test for recent as well as retrospective radiation exposures and reveal the type, be it alpha, beta or gamma radiation. Blood tests should be offered as a matter of routine to anyone who becomes sick to aid diagnosis as well as offer some hope of recompense if radiation exposure is confirmed.”

But the controversial study has immediately been disputed by health bosses this week.

NHS Somerset spokesman Paul Courtney told on Tuesday: “Public health Advisors with NHS Somerset note the comments and concerns being made by those opposed to the development of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, however the Primary Care Trust has seen no new or compelling evidence to date which would support campaigners’ hypothesis that radioactive pollution arising from the past operation or the recent decommissioning of the Hinkley Point is responsible for a statistical increase in the incidence of breast or any other cancer in the surrounding area.”

And Dr Julia Verne, Director of the South West Public Health Observatory, which is part of the Department of Health, has also previously disputed Dr Busby’s claims. “Statistics on breast cancer show that incidence is rising in Somerset but this is in line with the region and the country as a whole. There are many factors thought to be associated with this, including lifestyle issues. Breast cancer death rates for Somerset, including Sedgemoor, have been steadily falling over the last 15 years. When presented with health statistics it is important to understand that death rates from breast cancer are influenced not only by the numbers of new cases but, importantly, by whether patients are diagnosed early and have access to good quality treatment. Based on my many years working in the field of public health medicine and my detailed analysis of local health statistics, I personally would have no concerns living in or around Burnham and Highbridge, which is one of the most attractive areas of the Somerset coast.”

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