- News & Media
...for raising public awareness about the destruction of the biosphere and human gene pool, especially by low-level radiation.
Rosalie Bertell was born in 1929 and received her doctorate in Biometrics in 1966 at the Catholic University of America. She worked in the field of environmental health from 1970.
International Institute of Concern for Public Health
P.O. Box 40017
Toronto ON Canada
Bertell had been involved in the founding of several organisations: the Ministry of Concern for Public Health in Buffalo, New York, in 1978; the International Institute of Concern for Public Health (IICPH) in Toronto, Canada, 1984; the International Commission of Health Professionals, Geneva, 1985; the International Associates for Community Health in Orkney, Scotland, 1986, and the International Physicians for Humanitarian Medicine, on which she served as a member of the Board of Regents, in Geneva, 2000. Bertell served as President for the IICPH until retiring in 1996, and she had been a member of a religious congregation, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart, since 1958, prior to which she was also for six years a member of a contemplative Carmelite monastery. Bertell was also editor-in-chief of International Perspectives in Public Health, and author of No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth (1985), Handbook for estimating health effects from exposure to ionizing radiation (1986), and Planet Earth: The latest weapon of war (2000).
From 1969 to 1978 Bertell was senior cancer research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. She served as a consultant to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and to Health Canada. Other appointments have included being a member of the Science Advisory Board of the US-Canada International Joint Commission on the Great Lakes from 1990 until 1994, and as Co-Chair of the Working Group on Ecosystem Health. From 1994 to 1998 she was appointed to the IJC Nuclear Task Force for all US and Canadian shared waterways. She participated in joint research with the Japanese Association of Scientists, the Institute for Energy and Environment in Germany, the people of Rongelap Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Consumers Association of Penang, Malaysia, and the Centre for Industrial Safety and Environmental Concerns in Quilan, India. These undertakings were for the benefit of victims of military, industrial and technological pollution.
Bertell served three times as a judge on tribunals organised by the Permanent People's Tribunal. She led the investigation research by the International Medical Commission-Bhopal and organised the International Medical Commission-Chernobyl in Vienna in April 1996. She received nine honorary doctorates and numerous awards.
In 1996, Bertell undertook to help the people of the Philippines who were trying to deal with toxic waste left behind by the US Navy and Air Force on military bases that they had abandoned. The US accepted no legal obligation to clean up this waste because it had not been specified in the original contract in the 1940s. She had also been working with the gulf war veteran's illness, and published a journal article which veterans are able to use in in their attempt to obtain recognition and compensation for their combat injuries.
Bertell's broad knowledge of the fields of environmental and occupational health was enriched by extensive worldwide travel. She began a programme of medical assistance to the people of the Marshall Islands, as well as in Bhopal, India. She worked by preference on behalf of indigenous peoples and citizen groups most severely affected by militarism and pollution.
After her retirement, Rosalie Bertell lived in Yardlet, Pennsylvania, where she stayed active until her death in June 2012.
December 8th, 1986
It is a deep pleasure for me to be again in Stockholm and to gratefully accept the Right Livelihood Award for 1986 on behalf of myself and those who have worked with me at the International Institute of Concern for Public Health. Sweden is gaining an international reputation for its extraordinary efforts on behalf of global justice and peace, and for its yearly search of the global community for creative and concerned persons and organizations which could use some encouragement and financial assistance. This is a much valued service to the forming global village. In the long run it will, I think, be more humanly productive than increased airport security, military exercises, nuclear threats, and development of crowd-control technology. This contrast between a system of encouragement and cooperation, on the one hand, and a system of threats and forceable control, on the other, lies at the centre of the global crisis. It poses a clear choice for the future, on which will depend the survival or disintegration of civilization.
I have been told that the Vikings traveled both to North America and to Russia, demonstrating a desire to discover new lands and peoples, as well as to bridge global differences. While traveling in Sweden, I noticed also that the wives of these Viking explorers managed large farms and produced food, shelter and clothing for the family. Swedish development relied equally on establishing security and cooperation at home, and expanding consciousness and concern through adventurous sallies forth to foreign and sometimes very distant lands. Right Livelihood recognition of the work of the International Institute of Concern for Public Health focuses global attention on the necessity of developing security for the global village, meeting its need for clean air, water, food and a healthy habitat, as well as fostering clarity of vision on cooperation and development. These provide an essential balance to the high technology atmosphere of first world research as it sallies forth into outer space and sub-microscopic life.
Since Chernobyl, the fragility of human health, our food supply and domestic tranquility in the face of lethal nuclear fallout has become apparent to all. Yet less than 5% of the poisons contained at the Chernobyl reactor escaped into the environment. The remainder has been buried under a cement mausoleum, in spite of the failed U.S. attempt to do the same at Runit Island, Enewetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands. Forty years into the Nuclear Age, the Chernobyl accident found nations in panic and disarray, with conflicting public health and radiation protection criteria, empty assurances for the public at risk, and questionable practices of disposal of contaminated food. Milk was dumped on farm and pasture land; workers were sent out to harvest contaminated crops without proper clothing or respirators; and in Sweden military exercises were planned for a region of the country which had experienced the highest nuclear fallout.
Radiation induced cancers resulting from Chernobyl and the 1600 plus nuclear weapons explosions or accidents which have already occurred on this planet constitute only a small fraction of the tragedies caused. There will be embryonic, fetal and infant deaths, congenital diseases and malformations, various degrees of genetic damage to future generations, and a variety of human tragedies officially lumped together under the phrase "ill health" in radiation protection literature. Most of these will not be officially recognized as problems in a world grown callous about random murder by technology.
A report, soon to be published from the U.S. Council on Economic Priorities based on vital statistics has conservatively calculated that there are 9000 excess deaths a year in the U.S. attributable to the routine operation of commercial nuclear reactors. I was able to document 100 excess deaths of low birth weight infants born downwind of normally operating "state of the art" nuclear reactors in their first five years of operation in Wisconsin. These are only small glimpses at the tragic story, since many who are casualties do not die. Let me read from the sworn affadavit from a woman who was a non-fatal casualty at Three Mile Island during the time of the serious nuclear reactor accident in 1979:
"I provided the following information to Jane Lee on May 11, 1984.
On Friday evening, March 30, 1979, I was standing on the front porch of my home. My home faces south. It was raining, and the wind was blowing. All of a sudden the cat that had been let out began to howl in a most unusual war. I had never heard a sound like that from this or any other cat. I called the cat by name, however it did not come home... I went over to the banister and leaned over to call the cat again... Suddenly. the wind stopped; there was a movement in the limbs of the trees next to the porch, and a wave of heat engulfed me. The gust of heat brought the rain over me. Then the wind started again. This all... happened in about one minute. I was so startled that I went in, taking the cat, who had by now come upon the porch. I wiped the cat's wet coat and then washed my hands and face. My face felt tingly. About an hour later, I washed my face again and wiped my arms and legs with the towel. I noticed that my arms and face were pink. I applied a lotion because my skin felt tingly.
On Saturday morning, my skin was a darker pink, and there was an itch at the front of my scalp. This was the only part of my scalp that was not covered by a scarf. When I went to church on Sunday, my friend commented that I looked healthy and sunburned. On this day, hard little lumps, a little bigger than a pinhead appeared on my forehead and into the hairline... About three weeks later, he noticed that a lot of gray hairs had appeared across the front of my hair. When I washed my, hair that week, my comb was full of hair.
In the subsequent weeks, the skin on my forearms and neck turned darker and was scaly. This condition lasted for several years. There is however, some permanent discoloration however it is not prominent. My forearms were, and continue to be, very sensitive to the sun, becoming itchy with exposure. I try to avoid sunlight. I have also noticed that if my arms are injured, the bruise will last longer than was normal for me prior to the event described above.
Of greater concern to me presently is the loss of the function of a kidney. Toward the end of November 1983, I was in renal failure. My doctor described my condition as an unusual case. He stated that one of my kidneys had died. I was in Holy Spirit Hospital under the care of two doctors. I have not fully recovered, and I have not been able to resume my customary social and household activities.
I live on a farm with my husband. We were not able to evacuate during the accident although I wanted to leave because my husband would not ask anyone else to stay to do his job of caring for the animals. Despite our continual attention to the cattle, we experienced the first deformed calves ever born on our farm the following spring. The calves' heads hung to one side until they were six months old. Their necks appeared twisted. I also noted that the Norway maple by our home had deformed leaves which were curled at the edges."
No doubt many similar stories could be told in the Soviet Union, in Sweden, and Europe since Chernobyl. With no biological testing of victims it is hard to prove casualty. None of these problems are considered serious in the eyes of nuclear experts because they have not yet caused radiation-induced cancer death. We need a new word to describe this random damaging of life. I would suggest using nucleogenic or technogenic illness to describe these induced abnormalities.
In the face of such lack of sensitivity to human health considerations, concern for the future viability of the human race, placed under great stress by militarism and high tech, is rational, not irrational. Human passivity has permitted between 10 and 20 million deaths or serious casualties due to the nuclear fuel or weapon cycle since 1945, not including the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These conservative estimates do not include deaths and crippling especially among indigenous people and in the developing world due to the financial burden of the arms race and warped first world economic priorities.
Careless damage of the biosphere compounds the problems, as people physically less able to cope than their parents and grandparents will try to live in an increasingly hazardous environment. The increasing hazard stems from the intractable problems of uranium, nuclear, and other military pollution and waste. The raised voices of the exploited at this moment in history are indicative of the deepest and best survival instinct.
With these global problems in mind, I would like to make some suggestions for action by the people of the United Nations in behalf of future living on this lovely habitable planet:
1. Cooperation and participation in the first European Conference on the Medical Management of Radiation Recipients in Amsterdam, 21 -22 May, 1987, and the First International Conference on this topic in New York September 26 to October 3, 1987. The Institute believes that visibility of the radiation victims and alerting the medical community to their problems is essential for motivating changes in governmental behavior. Those most seriously injured by national ambitions and rivalry need a platform for making known the severe negative impacts of such policies before the eruption of nuclear mega death.
At the New York meeting there will be special sessions for physicians, scientists, lawyers and others intent on healing this incredible nucleogenic and technogenic sickness with which we abuse ourselves, our brothers and our sisters in the name of progress and national security. Only "Common Security", a phrase attributed to the late honored Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme, is acceptable in a global village.
2. Begin to dismantle the pseudo-scientific establishment which has rationalized nuclear addiction with self-appointed and self-perpetuated global advisory bodies. The International Commission on Radiological Protection needs to be dismantled first and replaced by an International Institute for the Safeguarding of Communities and Workers from Preventable Exposure to ionizing Radiation. Unlike its predecessor the I.C.R.P., this new Institute should be appointed by relevant scientific and public health organizations, be subject to scientific peer review, be responsible for public health recommendations rather than risk benefit tradeoffs, and be composed of persons trained in epidemiology, public health, toxicology, and worker health problems rather than of radiation users.
3. The International Atomic Energy Agency needs to be relieved of its mandate to promote nuclear energy. It might be retained temporarily to assist in the dismantling of this industry globally. However the monitoring of health and safety relative to this industry needs to be placed within a new agency not mandated to promote nuclear technology. An International Energy Agency should be established and mandated to implement the resolutions of the United Nations Conference on New and Renewable Sources of Energy held in Nairobi in 1981. Unbiased scientific data on non-nuclear energy technology must be quickly made available to developing nations. High pressure selling of unwanted first world nuclear technology to already exploited developing countries' will exacerbate present health, environmental and financial difficulties.
4. Begin phasing out the United Nations Security Council which merely reinforces the dominant position assumed by the nuclear nations in the face of international disorder. If we truly want to assume stature as a mature global family of nations we need to extend responsibility to the people of the world through a representative assembly, rather than assign abnormal political power to countries with weapons of mass destruction. We need to invest power in international treaties, conflict resolution mechanisms and the World Court.
5. Demand the cancellation of the United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy (PUNE) scheduled for 1987. High tech not wanted in the developed world should not be pushed on the developing world especially under United Nations auspices. Food irradiation will be a major issue at the PUNE conference. Inconclusive research done on well nourished laboratory animals is being used to substantiate promises of healthful food to populations already severely decimated by hunger, malnutrition and starvation. Food irradiation delivers stale food disguised as nutritious, polluted with unique radiolytic by-products to children suffering from deprivations which are already life threatening. Published research from India indicates that malnourished children fed irradiated wheat developed polyploidy, a cellular phenomenon also observed in cancer, during viral infections, in senility, and after radiation exposure. Long term health implications, problems of transportation of irradiation sources, worker health and safety, and disposal of the radioactive waste from this new industry are poorly addressed, if at all, by the proponents of food irradiation.
It is my sincere hope that the awarding of the Right Livelihood Award to Dr. Alice Stewart,and to myself on this 8th day of December, 1986 will mark a close to the era of global nuclear expansion and deception with respect to the hazards of ionizing radiation. I hope and pray that it will be the beginning of reality therapy, of healing the pre-World War III radiation victims, of the dawn of an era of serious efforts to consciously build the infrastructure of the forming global village. Domestic or common security is still the "sine quanon" of human survival and development. It can never be sacrificed for adventure, profit or political gain.
The people of the global village are longing to share in the benefits of human endeavor, not the garbage; to share in the wholesomeness of life and not to be handed death. It is my heart-felt wish that the good begun here will flow forth as a river of life justice, and hope for those people most broken and needy in our global village. May it mark a firm choice for the Global Encouragement and Cooperation System initiated in Sweden, and an end to the Threat and Forcible Control System which has been a global plague for centuries and culminates in worldwide hostage-holding to nuclear terror.
(asked in 2005)
1. You have warned about the health effects of low-level radiation during a lifetime of scientific work. Do you see an increasing understanding of this subject?
Amazingly, for the first time, traditional nuclear scientists have looked at low-dose radiation and created new terms such as genomic instability and by-stander effect to describe the effects they previously ignored. This new research now confirms in the mainstream what I have been saying.
2. Do you fear a renaissance of nuclear energy?
Yes. The engineers and politicians still hold on to the outdated myths. They see money and political power in the nuclear fantasy.
3. You have been a board member and consultant of lots of different committees, organizations and institutions. Which job do you regard most important?
Seeking of truth from the experience of survivors of radioactivity from nuclear weapon explosions, nuclear disasters and medical therapy - and the freedom to report through our organization, the International Institute of Concern for Public Health.
4. How do new products and technology affect my health? What will happen to the children?
Most new products and technology are "watered-down" versions of military research - a death oriented research. They are basically deadly or detrimental to health. We need to fund life-oriented research to produce life enhancing products and technology. Reducing children's ability to cope and filling the earth system with hazardous materials incompatible with life, is a species' death process.
5. What effect has the RLA had on your work?
It has been most important for networking and encouragement. It helps with my work with developing countries, but is not recognized well in North America.
No Immediate Danger: Prognosis for a Radioactive Earth. Women's Press, London 1985.
Handbook for estimating health effects from exposure to ionizing radiation. International radiation research. Training Institute, Birmingham 1986.
Planet earth - The latest weapon of war. Women's Press, London 2000.
Health & environmental costs of militarism. Presented at the Barcelona Forum. Towards a world without violence. 24 June 2004. Download (pdf)
Globalization: Incorporating Environmental and Human Rights. Presented at the Barcelona Forum. Towards a world without violence. 26 June 2004. Download (pdf)
Occupational Hazards of War. Depleted uranium: All the questions about DU and Gulf War syndrome are not yet answered. International Journal of Health Services, Volume 36, Number 3, Pages 503-520, Baywood Publishing 2006. Download (pdf)