March 5, 1995: Headlines: COS - Marshall Islands: Human Radiation Experiments: Radiation Experiments: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Medical Anthropology FOIA: Freedom of Information Act: George Washington University: Statement by Marshall Islands RPCV Glenn Alcalay before the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Marshall Islands: Peace Corps Marshall Islands : The Peace Corps in the Marshall Islands: March 5, 1995: Headlines: COS - Marshall Islands: Human Radiation Experiments: Radiation Experiments: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Medical Anthropology FOIA: Freedom of Information Act: George Washington University: Statement by Marshall Islands RPCV Glenn Alcalay before the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

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Statement by Marshall Islands RPCV Glenn Alcalay before the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

Statement by Marshall Islands RPCV Glenn Alcalay before the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

The National Security Archive is a non-governmental, non-profit organization founded in 1985 by a group of journalists and scholars who sought a centralized home for formerly secret U.S. government documentation obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The National Security Archive is proud to have had the opportunity to make a substantial contribution to the Cold War series.

Statement of Glenn Alcalay

New York, New York

MR. ALCALAY: Thank you, Dr. Faden and members of the committee, for this opportunity.

I'm going to address my remarks this afternoon to the women of the Marshall Islands. My name is Glenn Alcalay, and I have had a 20-year involvement with the people of the Marshall Islands, beginning 20 years ago as a young Peace Corps volunteer on Utirik, one of the downwind atolls from Bikini, which was hit with a very substantial amount of radioactive fall-out from the U.S.'s largest hydrogen bomb thermo-nuclear weapon at Bikini in 1954.

I learned very early on that all was not well with the people of Utirik, and it was my experience, after having been on Utirik for one month as a Peace Corps volunteer, that I encountered my first foray with East meets West in the form of a Brookhaven National Laboratory survey done under the auspices of the Atomic Energy Commission, headed up by Dr. Robert Conard, the then director of the Brookhaven team assessing the follow-up program in the aftermath of Bravo from 1954.

In 1975, as a young Peace Corps volunteer, I inquired to Dr. Conard about the potential harm to women and reproduction as a consequence of latent effect of radiation, and before the community-wide village meeting between Brookhaven and the people of Utirik, I was told in no uncertain terms that that was not my bailiwick, that I really had no business making such an inquiry, and that I should stick to my formal Peace Corps duties of teaching English and setting up an agricultural cooperative.

That is, it was 20 years ago for me that I began to sense that something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

At the present time, I am a doctoral candidate in medical anthropology at the New School for Social Research in New York. I'm also assistant professor of Anthropology at the City College of the City University of New York, and for the past 20 years, I have made seven return trips to the Marshall Islands. I've spent a total of four and a half years in the past 20 years, including the two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, in the Marshals. I'm a fluent speaker of the language, and it was always very interesting to me to go back and investigate this question of women vis-a-vis the latent effects of radiation in the Marshals.

Now, following 41 years of the follow-up studies of Brookhaven following Bravo in 1954, it is well documented and acknowledged that thyroid abnormalities are one of the larger problems facing the Marshalese.

In addition to a few assorted carcinomas, the Brookhaven scientists have very narrowly focused on thyroid abnormality and a few assorted carcinomas. The question of women and reproduction has always been conspicuously omitted.

It was for that reason when I chose my topic for doing doctoral research that I decided to focus on women. I'd like to read a quote from one of my 1200 interviews I've collected over the past 20 years of Marshalese women, one of the inducements about how I got involved.

This is a quote from a Mili Latobo on Utirik, and I quote, she says, "Some women gave birth to creatures like cats, rats and the insides of turtles, like intestines. Most of the women had miscarriage, including myself, who gave birth to something unlike a human being. Some women gave birth to things resembling grapes and other fruits, and some women even stopped having children, including myself. Things are not the same now, and the people are not as active and healthy as before the bomb."

I heard this repeatedly throughout the Marshall Islands from many women, and it seemed really curious about this chasm that existed between Brookhaven studies and the perceptions, indigenous perceptions and observations of the Marshalese women.

For that reason, I spent 13 months in the Marshall Islands, between 1990 and 1991, conducting a health survey on women and reproduction, and I would direct your attention in my statement, I'm sorry I didn't bring overheads, I should have had foresight to bring overheads, I'm going to share with the committee some preliminary findings of my 13-month health survey that I conducted in the Marshall Islands, wherein I interviewed 830 women on 10 different atolls.

In a nutshell, I clustered the Marshall Islands. Here's a map, by the way, attached to my statement of the . I clustered the islands under purview in terms of their proximity to Bikini, the site of the largest thermo-nuclear weapons in the 1950s, and I divided them into Northern and Southern . That seemed reasonable. And I anticipated there might be confounding variables with my study.

I anticipated I could hear Dr. Conard saying to me, well, what about the problem of selective memory, for example. Moreover, since a nuclear claims tribunal has been established under the Compact of Free Association Regiment, whereby a $150 million trust fund has been established in the Marshals, the Marshalese are at present filing claims for health injury and property damage stemming from the tests, what about the so-called greed factor or let's call it more diplomatically the embellishment factor of the selective memory problem?

My sense and my 20-year knowledge of the , if we can call this the greed factor, that the greed factor amongst all 50,000 Marshall Islanders will be randomly distributed throughout the . I do not think there is one island with a monopoly on the greed factor.

Another factor-encountering variable might have to do with differentials in health care provision; that is, prenatal care, neonatal care. I can attest to this committee and anybody who has spent any time in the outer islands of the that health care, and in particular prenatal and neonatal care, is abysmally poor universally. That is, there is no one particular island that stands out in the outer islands as having excellent health care. So, I don't see that as a compounding variable either.

I direct the committee's attention to Pages 6, 7 and 8 of my statement. On Page 6 is the data, the data tables. Page 7 shows what I call adverse births or congenital anomalies; that is, I combined miscarriages and still births, and I made a division between pre-1952 and post-1952 in the Marshals. The reason being that the thermo-nuclear weapons experiments started at Eniwetok in 1952. Prior to that, they were atomic weapons in the kiloton range. Beginning in 1952, the weapons, thermo-nuclear weapons, the hydrogen bombs, were in the megaton range, and the fall-out from the megaton range weapons we now know was distributed pretty uniformly throughout the Marshals more -- obviously higher doses to the northern islands, closer to Bikini, and less fall-out further away.

So, that's the reason I chose '52 as the cut-off point. On Page 7, the graph indicates that prior to 1952, before the onset of the thermo-nuclear weapons, adverse births were randomly distributed throughout the Marshals. A pattern doesn't really emerge until you turn the page to Page 8, post-'52. After the large hydrogen bomb weapons, we see a distinct correlation between distance from Bikini and that being the independent variable and the incidence rate of congenital anomalies.

As you move further away from Bikini, that is the three atolls furthest away, the southern islands, Rongelap, Anorik and Mili, we see that they have the lowest incidence rate of congenital anomalies.

Now, this is a preliminary survey. This is a pioneering effort in the , and I am here to request one item from this committee. I did not bring a long laundry list. I brought one particular item. I tried to crystalize my statement into one request.

It seems pretty clear to me that 41 years after Bravo and the very large thermo-nuclear weapons in the , we still have an uncertain prognosis vis-a-vis women, and I would urge this committee to recommend initiation of a larger follow-up study to my study, a larger systematic epidemiological study of the women and reproduction in the .

DR. FADEN: Thank you, Mr. Alcalay. Thank you for your material.

Are there questions? Ruth?

DR. MACKLIN: I'd just like to have one clarification about --


DR. MACKLIN: -- the words you used and the items that you're measuring. You have miscarriages. You have still births, and then you have what you call adverse births, which you define as still births and miscarriages combined, and yet in your -- when you -- in your oral statement, you referred to congenital anomalies.

Did you look at something other than deaths? I mean miscarriages and still births are adverse outcomes that did not result in a live birth. Did you look at anything that would be called congenital anomalies in births, in live births?

MR. ALCALAY: Yes. Thank you for the question.

In my data collection, and I'm still assessing the data, I have a ton of data, it's going to take me several more months to sift through it, I also collected data from all these women in my survey about children born with serious maladies. I would include those in congenital anomalies as well.

Also, another facet of this research which will come out in a few months has to do with resident histories. The Marshall Islanders, unlike our popular romantic images of island people, do not stay put. There's a high degree of mobility. It's important to know where a particular women resided, say, in 1954, did she live in Rongelap, a 120 miles from Bikini, or was she at Alamonwah Shopping Center in Hawaii several thousand miles away.

So, I'm also assessing those data, but I hope that clarifies.


DR. FADEN: Thank you. Are there other questions for Mr. Alcalay?

(No response)

DR. FADEN: Thank you very much for the material.

MR. ALCALAY: Thank you very much.

DR. FADEN: Good luck with your dissertation.

MR. ALCALAY: Thank you.

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Story Source: George Washington University

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Marshall Islands; Human Radiation Experiments; Radiation Experiments; Safety and Security of Volunteers; Medical Anthropology FOIA; Freedom of Information Act



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