Could a spike in infant deaths in the Pacific northwest be caused by the Fukushima nuclear incident in Japan?
Potentially, says a new analysis published on CounterPunch.org and written by U.S. doctor Janette Sherman and epidemiologist Joseph Mangano.
But a skeptic from Scientific American says their analysis is "statistical scaremongering," and while infant deaths did technically increase from before the incident to after the incident, the overall trend for the year does not show any great increase.
Sherman and Mangano looked at weekly infant mortality reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and found that in the weeks following the Fukushima disaster, there was a 35 percent increase in infant deaths in eight cities in the northwestern United States. The cities included in the analysis include Boise, Idaho; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; and the California cities of Santa Cruz, San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose and Berkeley.
Specifically, the researchers saw that in the four weeks prior to the meltdown there was an average of 9.25 baby deaths per week, while in the 10 weeks following, there was an average of 12.5 baby deaths per week.
They say the association makes sense because radioactive isotopes released by the Fukushima reactor are taken up in water and food and, when consumed, can be concentrated in certain parts of the body, Sherman and Mangano wrote.
However, this analysis is deeply flawed, wrote Michael Moyer in Scientific American. Moyer conducted his own analysis of the CDC statistics.
While true that the four weeks before the incident saw fewer infant deaths than after, the researchers didn't look even further back to see if there was an actual trend, he wrote. But if the researchers had token January and February statistics into account, and not just the four weeks in March before the nuclear incident, they would've found that there actually is no overall increase in baby deaths -- and, if anything, there has been a slight decrease, Moyer said.
"A check [of the data] reveals that the authors’ statistical claims are critically flawed -- if not deliberate mistruths," Moyer wrote in Scientific American. He added, that doesn't mean there aren't any health repercussions from the Fukushima incident.