Until May 12, 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) always followed the lead of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear health effects issues as there is a 1959 agreement that WHO would accept the findings of that organization. This agreement is still in effect and hopefully will be rescinded soon. However this most likely will need some considerable political pressure from the public.
On that day in May, history was made when courageous WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said “There is no safe low level of radiation.” This was very exciting news for those of us who have been working so diligently over many years to get people and governments to understand this simple fact that has been very well-researched and scientifically proven over and over, that there is no safe level of nuclear (ionizing) radiation. There has been no significant media attention paid to this announcement. We learned about it through emails from other NGOs. This gives us some concern as there is sure to be opposition from the nuclear industries and governments that want nuclear power and/or nuclear weapons.
This pronouncement was made at a short meeting with the collective, “Independent WHO” made up of several organizations. Started in 2006, this collective has been carrying out a vigil at the World Health Organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. They have been demanding the revision of the Agreement “WHA-12-40” that leads to the WHO accepting the decisions of the IAEA on nuclear radiation health matters. The collective has grown from the original eight founders to over 40 organizations and growing! Included in the list is Enfants de Tchernobyl Belarus. One of its founding members, the late Solange Fernex, was an activist with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), also part of the coalition.
Originally from China, Dr. Chan received her MD degree from the University of Western Ontario. She began her public health career in Hong Kong, being appointed Director of Health there in 1978. In that post, she initiated new services to prevent the spread of disease and promote health, improved communicable disease surveillance and response and enhanced training of public health professionals.
Dr. Chan worked to establish better local and international collaboration. She effectively managed outbreaks of avian influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
Dr. Chan has had a very distinguished career. In 2003, Dr. Chan became WHO Director of the Department for Protection of the Human Environment. In June 2005, she became Director of Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Response with promotions onward to Representative of the Director-General for Pandemic Influenza, then Assistant Director-General for Communicable Diseases. November 2006 saw her appointment to Director-General of the WHO. Her term will end in June 2012.
It is imperative that we support this tremendously important pronouncement and spread the message far and wide. This is a breakthrough that will impress the public because of the prestige of the World Health Organization and the integrity of the Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.
The letter to Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan from the International Institute of Concern for Public appears below. It can also be seen at iicph.org/330.
Please do write your own letter to Dr. Chan and send the word to others to spread the news and send their own letters.
Thanks, Marion Odell
Dear Dr. Chan:
For those of us in the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) community that have been working for so many years to awaken the public and politicians to the dangers to health of ionizing radiation, your pronouncement that radiation is always dangerous and there are no safe low levels of radiation is very welcome! We are thankful that the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) under your leadership has come to this understanding.
Internationally renowned epidemiologist and expert on the health effects of ionizing radiation, Dr. Rosalie Bertell, Ph.D., G.N.S.H., was one of the founders of our organization (IICPH) and its first president. Dr. Bertell remains a guiding light. We therefore have been very active in working to educate the public, governments and regulatory bodies on the scientific evidence that there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radiation.
Governments and the nuclear industries have depended on the pronouncements of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help maintain the nuclear industry, despite this scientific evidence. But now, we and other environmental NGOs will have your announcement as Director General of the W.H.O. to assist us in our mandate to educate people, governments and other groups on the health effects of even very low levels of radiation.
Millions of lives have already been adversely affected from ionizing radiation. Our descendants are unlikely to escape the effects even if all proliferation of ionizing radiation should cease today. Therefore it is vital to warn, to teach, and to prevent even very low exposures.
As Dr. Bertell has said in her book, No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth, “We know we face extinction if nuclear war ever begins. We face the same extinction even if the bombs never fall. The production alone of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is initiating the death crisis of our species.”
We value your tremendous wisdom and courage and will certainly do what we can to help the W.H.O. mission to bring about a healthier, safer environment for all.