Wednesday, January 19, 2005

When epidemiology is rocket science

When Russians launch their space rockets from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan they also spray "dozens of litres of unburned fuel from spent rocket stages containing toxic substances" onto an inhabited area surrounding the site. US and European launch sites are over the ocean and do not result in this kind of civilian exposure. Reuters Health reports that epidemiologists from Vector, the Russian weapons laboratory in Novosibirsk, have found "increased rates of illness" in children along the flight path. The Russian report is not published, but noted as a news item in the journal Nature (subscription required) because of its "important implications." Nature also reported that Russian authorities deny the report and are attempting to suppress it.

NASA and the European Space Agency have used the facility and admitted to being aware of the pollution, but don't accept responsibility, saying they are only "buying the service" of the cosmodrome. The ever-popular American weapons-maker Lockheed-Martin also uses it.

I guess we really are all in this together. Makes you proud.