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Editor,—Radioactive lightening rods (RLRs) replaced conventional rods in schools built in Majorca between 1975 and 1989. RLRs in Spain usually have a bolster containing 100 mg Americium 241.1 This isotope is an alpha emitter; its half life is 432 years. The total alpha activity on the rod is around 1.3 × 1010 Bq.
Ingestion or inhalation of radioactive particles might arise in the event of storms damaging a RLR, when contaminated radioactive material might reach the courtyard of the school where children play. Most alpha radionuclides are bone seeking.2
As one of us noticed anecdotal evidence that suggested an increase in childhood cancer in schools with RLRs, we have undertaken a population based descriptive epidemiological cross sectional study of all the 67 government funded schools in Majorca in towns with a resident population of over 6000.3 New malignancies in a total of 22 796 children age 4–14 years were identified over a 22 month period in 1990–2, from blind questionnaires sent to head teachers. A total of 162 measurements were made of radon gas and total alpha radioactivity in air using TASTRACK4 plastic in a subsample of nine schools with and without a RLR.
Our main findings were that two malignancies were reported in 17 425 children in schools without a RLR and six malignancies in 5371 children in schools with a RLR. The rate of cancer ratio was 9.74 (95% confidence interval: 1.79 to 69.79; χ2 = 11.79, p<0.003, Fisher’s exact test). The radon concentration in schools with a RLR was significantly higher than in schools without a RLR (p<0.0001, Mann-Whitney test). There is a significant trend for increasing alpha radioactivity from any source from schools without a RLR to schools with a RLR.
We feel that we have provided significant evidence to recommend the removal of RLRs from schools.
Since completion of this study RLRs from all schools in the island have been removed. The position in mainland Spain has changed as well: by September 1995 some 50% (13 248) of the overall number of RLRs were removed.5 As far as we know, in other countries RLRs remain in place.
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