Study may link Three Mile Island accident to thyroid cancer cases

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – A new study from Penn State Hershey Medical Center suggests a link between the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island and cases of cancer in the Midstate.

Back then, there were a lot of worries about the release of radiation during the partial meltdown and its effect on people’s health.

Earl Hammaker has lived a stone’s throw away from TMI since he was a kid.

“I was only 4 years old, but I can almost remember playing in the yard and her mother calling and telling us to be put inside,” Hammaker said.

But he says he hasn’t worried since.

“It came out in the news that it wasn’t a lot of radiation and it escaped, but who knows,” he said.

“After so many people have said there’s nothing to see here, we say there might be something to see,” said Dr. David Goldenberg, a thyroid cancer specialist at Penn State Hershey.

Goldenberg is the lead scientist in a new study that may link the TMI accident to cases of thyroid cancer.

“Our data suggests that there was a shift from the more common type of thyroid cancer to the radiation-induced [thyroid cancer] in the years following the nuclear accident,” he said.

Goldenberg tested 44 samples of tissue from thyroid cancer patients from before the accident to present day.

“The only known risk factors for developing thyroid cancer is exposure to accidental or therapeutic low-dose radiation with a lag time of five to 25 years,” he said. “We think there is a correlation.”

The Nuclear Energy Industry notes that the sample size is small and does not make a comment about cancer incidence.

“The latest study in no way changes what we know about the environmental and public health effects from the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island,” NEI’s John Keeley said. “Although a small amount of radiation was released from the reactor, no injuries, deaths or direct health effects were caused, according to more than a dozen epidemiological studies performed after the accident.”

A study by the Nuclear Regulatory Committee also showed insignificant levels of iodine were released during the event.

Goldenberg says the research group will continue gathering and analyzing data from cancer patients born, raised, and treated in central Pennsylvania to further draw a connection between the partial meltdown and thyroid cancer incidences in the area.

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