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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has halted funding for a study on the connection between radioactive fallout and thyroid disease among people living downwind of aboveground atomic testing in Nevada during the 1950s and early 1960s.
The study, which already had cost $8 million, has rechecked about 1,300 of 4,000 former students who lived in southwestern Utah and eastern Nevada, plus a control group of Arizona residents.
"CDC does not have the financial resources available to continue the project," agency spokesman John Florence told the Deseret Morning News. "It's a funding issue." Florence was quoted in a copyright story in the newspaper Tuesday.
Dr. Joseph L. Lyon, a University of Utah researcher who has been studying the fallout issue for decades and headed the investigation, received notification of the CDC decision in a March 21 letter from Michael A. McGeehin, director of the CDC Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects.
Lyon said he was loath to call it a cover-up, but it seemed the federal government does not want to know about health effects of fallout on American citizens. "That's the only interpretation I can place on it," he said.
For decades, there has been debate over how the more than 900 atomic tests affected downwind residents in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Past studies produced conflicting conclusions as to whether the fallout caused increased numbers of cases of particular types of cancer.
The first studies began in the 1960s and ended with the federal researchers concluding that fallout had not increased disease among the downwinders.
Lyon's studies, beginning in 1977, concluded that fallout did cause increased incidence of cancer downwind.
After the trial of lawsuit filed in behalf of possible victims, a federal judge in Utah concluded that fallout was to blame for some of the illnesses. But his ruling was overturned on appeal on the ground of government immunity.
Congress then passed the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act in 1990 to provide for compassionate payments to downwinders who contracted certain cancers and other serious diseases.
In 1993, a new study by Lyon and colleagues found radioactivity from the detonations increased the incidence of thyroid tumors 3.4 times over the expected rate among schoolchildren who were exposed to the highest doses.
The latest study was an attempt to re-examine the residents. Some scientists suspect health effects may develop slowly for thyroid disease and that there may be lifelong risk.
Lyon said the study is incomplete and analysis has not been carried out yet, so he is hesitant to talk about results.
McGeehin said a special emphasis panel -- a board of scientific experts from outside the CDC -- reviewed Lyon's protocol and recommended that the study not be funded beyond the 2004 grant award.
"I've been working on this now since 1977," Lyon said. "I'm about ready to retire, and I'm sort of saying, 'I'd like to finish up this thyroid study and get more definitive information.' "
Jay Truman, founder and director of the group Downwinders and one of the former students, said the government was wrong to halt funding. This was supposed to be a definitive study, he said.
"All of us downwind are still -- as we were at the time the heaviest fallout fell -- expendable," he said.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)