A group of doctors and scientists risked their lives and careers to help children living in the most contaminated areas of the Chernobyl fallout and discovered a simple treatment that clears the radionuclides from their bodies, offering hope for future generations of Chernobyl and Fukushima victims Dr. Mae-Wan Ho.
Vassili Nesterenko and Yuri Bandazhevsky, champions of the victims of Chernobyl
The radioactive fallout from Chernobyl contaminated vast areas of neighbouring Belarus to > 37 000 Bq/m2. Agricultural production was halted on 264 000 hectares, where 2 million people live, among them 500 000 children .
Vassili Nesterenko (1934-2008), a physician from Belarus and a former director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, was one of the co-authors of a comprehensive report documenting the health impacts of Chernobyl (see  Chernobyl Deaths Top a Million Based on Real Evidence, SiS 55). Since 1990, he had been the director of the Belarusian independent Institute of Radiation Safety (BELRAD), created in 1989 with the help of Soviet physicist, dissident, and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov (Nobel Peace Award, 1975), Belarusian writer and critic, Ales Adamovich, and Russian chess grandmaster and former world champion Anatoly Karpov. The mission of BELRAD was to document and study the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster . Because of his work on Chernobyl, Nesterenko lost his job and was threatened internment in a psychiatric asylum. He escaped two attempts on his life.
Nesterenko intervened personally during the accident at Chernobyl. As an expert on the subject and with his experience as a fire fighter, he threw liquid nitrogen containers from a helicopter in an attempt to cool the reactor core, risking his life in the radioactive smoke. He survived, but three of his 4 passengers in the helicopter died from the radiation and contamination.
Nesterenko was not alone in being persecuted for working on Chernobyl.
Yuri Bandazhevsky, former director of the Medical Institute in Gomel (Belarus) is a scientist also dedicated to understanding and mitigating the health consequences of the Chernobyl disaster. He created the Gomel Medical Institute, and was named its director in 1990. But in June 2001, Bandazhevsky was sentenced to 8 years imprisonment, as was the Deputy Director, Vladimir Ravkov. The imprisonment was widely believed to be due to his work on the consequences of Chernobyl, as his arrest came soon after he published reports critical of the official research being conducted into the Chernobyl incident .
Bandazhevsky was released on parole from prison in 2005, and prohibited from leaving Belarus for five months. He was afterwards invited by the mayor of Clermont-Ferrand in France to work at the university and at the hospital on the consequences of Chernobyl. Since 1977, Clermont Ferrand has been linked to Gomel. In France, Bandazhevsky is supported by the Commission de Recherche et d’Information Independantes sur la Radioactivité (CRIIRAD).
Chronic incorporation of Cs-137 into children’s organs
Bandazhevsky documented the chronic incorporation of Cs-137 in the organs of children living in contaminated areas. A paper published in 2003 examined the organs of 52 children up to the age of 10, who died in 1997. The highest accumulation was in the endocrine glands, in particular the thyroid, the adrenals and the pancreas. High levels were also found in the heart, the thymus and the spleen . Children have a higher average burden of Cs-137 compared with adults living in the same community, typically 2 to 3 times.
The organs from 6 infants with very high levels of contamination in organs – thousands to >12 500 Bq/kg – all had severe symptoms: premature malformation, sepsis, cardiac abnormality, sepsis and bleeding, and cerebral malformation.
Histological abnormalities were also demonstrated in the organ tissues and in animal models exposed to Cs-137 in their feed .
As these children were born after March 1987, they did not suffer from radioactive “iodine shock”; hence their illnesses and death was not due to short-lived I-131, but long-lived radionuclides especially Cs-137.
In the course of his work, Bandashevsky found that Cs-137 over 20 Bq/kg leads to disturbance of electrophysiological processes in the heart muscle of children. Those born after 1986 and continuously living in contaminated areas with concentrations above 15 Ci/km2 (Ci, Curie = 3.7 x 1010 Bq) suffer serious pathological modifications of the cardiovascular system (see ).
Apple pectin reduces radioactivity in children’s body
Meanwhile, the BELRAD, under the direction of Nesterenko, carried out radiation monitoring of the inhabitants of the Chernobyl contaminated zone and their foodstuffs, and developed measures for the maintenance of radiation safety and radioprotection. Nesterenko also pioneered a treatment with apple pectin for children living in highly contaminated areas and eating highly contaminated food.
As a complement to standard radioprotection measures, apple-pectin preparations have been given especially in Ukraine to reduce the Cs-137 uptake in children. Pectin acts by binding to the radionuclide in the gut to block its absorption. The question was raised as to whether pectin might also be useful in clearing it from tissues. Caesium is chemically similar to potassium, and therefore has a wide distribution in tissues and cells, and is also excreted in urine.
Researchers at BELRAD carried out a randomised, double-blind placebo-controlled trial to test the efficacy of dry, milled apple-extract containing 15-16 % pectin on 64 children from contaminated villages of the Gomel regions. The average Cs137 load in the group of children was about 30 Bq/kg body weight. The trial was conducted during a one-month stay in the sanatorium Silver Spring where only uncontaminated food was given to the children.
The results showed that Cs-137 counts in children given pectin-powder were reduced by an average of 62%, whereas the average reduction in those children given only placebo powder was only 13.9 %. The difference was significant at less than 1 % level. The reduction was medically significant, as no child in the placebo group reached values below 20 Bq/kg body weight, which is considered by Bandazhevsky as potentially associated with specific pathological tissue damages.
Among the children living in the contaminated areas, 70 to 90 % of the children had Cs-137 exceeding 15-20 Bq/kg body weight. In many villages, the levels reached 200-400 Bq/kg; the highest values were measured in Narovlya district with 6 700-7 300 Bq/kg. As shown by Bandazhevsky, the chronic accumulation of Cs-137 contributed to progressive deterioration of health [7, 8].
In a second study published in 2007 carried out by the BELRAD and the Research Centre Jülich in Germany, a joint data-base was created to include all available data from previous measurements at both research institutes and evaluated to identify settlements with potentially enhanced radiation burdens. Serial measurements of the Cs body burden were then performed at those settlements. The new data for 17 000 children were used to evaluate the actual situation with special attention to the critical group – the 10 % in age group 1-19 y with the highest dose. These children were recruited into further investigations on the effectiveness of different treatments including apple pectin to reduce the Cs-137 burdens in the body.
Although total annual doses for most of nearly 17 000 children assessed in 2002-2003 were generally below 1 mSv (the international exposure limit, approximately equivalent to 1 308 780 Bq), there are still cases where the limit is exceeded merely due to a high ingestion dose. This calls for remedial measures for agricultural land and the use of clean food and control of food contamination.
A brand of pectin called Vitapect consists of apple pectins with added vitamins, mineral nutrient and flavouring. In a placebo controlled double-blind study, 8 groups of internally contaminated children were treated with Vitapect (5 g twice a day) for a two-week period during their stay in a sanatorium. An equal number of control groups were given a placebo preparation. Each group comprised 40-50 children. A total of 729 children participated in the study. The Cs-137 body count of each child was measured at the beginning and end of the treatment.
The relative reduction of specific activity was 32.4 + 0.6 % for the pectin groups compared with an average of 14.2 + 0.5 % for the control groups. The mechanism of action of pectins is assumed to be similar to that of Prussian Blue, a proven and recommended agent for removing Cs-137 from the body. It blocks the re-uptake of Cs-137 excreted into the gut, thereby reducing the biological half-life by a factor of 2.5 from 69 to 27 days, in good agreement with a theoretical model.
It is of interest that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in the United States has suggested the following dietary countermeasures against ionizing radiation for astronauts :
“Dietary countermeasures are drugs, that when ingested by an astronaut, may have the potential to reduce effects of ionizing radiation. These supplements can be broadly categorized into two groups. The first group includes specific nutrients that prevent the radiation damage. For example, antioxidants like vitamins C and A may help by soaking up radiation-produced free-radicals before they can do any harm. Research has also suggested that pectin fiber from fruits and vegetables, and omega-3-rich fish oils may be beneficial countermeasures to damage from long-term radiation exposure. Other studies have shown that diets rich in strawberries, blueberries, kale, and spinach prevent neurological damage due to radiation. In addition, drugs such as Radiogardase (also known as Prussian blue) that contain Ferric (III) hexacyanoferrate (II) are designed to increase the rate at which cesium-137 or thallium are eliminated from the body.”
BELRAD holds training seminars for parents and children, who receive the booklet, How to Pr0tect Yourself and Your Child from Radiation”, containing practical advice such as how to reduce the levels of radionuclides in wild fowl, mushrooms and fish, before they are cooked: by soaking them for two periods of 3-4 hours each in salted water (two tablespoons of salt with one tablespoon of vinegar in 1 litre of water) .
To-date, BELRAD has performed 433 000 whole body count measurement (WBC) in 300 villages in the provinces of Mogilyov, Brest, Grodno, Vitebsk, Minsk and Bryansk. In 2001, the WBC laboratory of the Institute was officially accredited and certified. The large scope of the work required the collation and evaluation of all the data received, which was then combined to produce The Radio-ecological Atlas: Human Beings and Radiation, a systematic analysis of whole body count measurements of Cs-137 performed on children in villages in 19 districts of the Chernobyl region of Belarus between 2001 and 2007. The Atlas is regularly updated as the Institute continues the radiation monitoring of children. It now includes measurements performed up to 2011, including additional results from two further provinces.
Seaweed alginate for radioprotection
Radioprotection is an urgent issue not just for the victims of Chernobyl but especially now for those living in highly contaminated areas of Fukushima (see  Truth about Fukushima, SiS 55). A study carried out at the Institute of Radiation Medicine in Beijing China in 1991 demonstrated that sodium alginate prepared from seaweeds such as Sargassum sp. and kelp (Laminaria sp.) was able to block radioactive strontium uptake . Na alginate from S. siliquastrum in particular, reduced the body burden of strontium 3.3-4.2 fold in rats, and by 78% (+/- 8.9) in human subjects. No undesirable effects on gastrointestinal function was observed nor were Ca, Fe, Cu and Zn metabolism altered, both in the animal experiments and in human volunteers. A more recent study at the Institute of Radiation Protection, Ingolstadter, Germany, found that sodium alginate added to Sr-90 contaminated milk reduced the uptake of Sr-90 by a factor of 9 .
The seaweed Nori in the Japanese diet is also a rich source of alginate.
Bandazhevsky and the Gomel Medical Institute, and Nesterenko and BELRAD have made a real difference to the lives of villagers that they have been able to help. The levels of radionuclides have been reduced in comparison with the villages where the radiological contamination has remained the same or where the situation has got worse as the result of particular local conditions, such as, for example, an abundant crop of contaminated mushrooms. The importance of decontamination, continuing health surveillance and radioprotection cannot be over-emphasized.
BALRAD would have made much more progress had it not been for a scandalous disinformation campaign mounted against the apple pectin treatment, which stopped major funding from the European Parliament in the 1990s  (see also  The Pectin Controversy, SiS 55).
There is indeed hope for future generations to recover health and vitality, thanks to the work of these courageous doctors and scientists, who put their lives and careers on the line for the sake of learning the truth about the consequences of Chernobyl and helping the children affected. They deserve all our support.
For more information and especially if you would like to help, please contact Enfants de Tchernobyl Belarus (http://enfants-tchernobyl-belarus.org); firstname.lastname@example.org; or the Institute of Radioprotection “BELRAD” (http://belrad-institute.org); email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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