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L.A. at Center of Massive Study of Chernobyl Victims

July 18, 1986|THOMAS H. MAUGH II | Times Science Writer

Industrialist Armand Hammer and UCLA immunologist Robert P. Gale left for the Soviet Union Thursday carrying recommendations from an international team of scientists for the establishment of an unprecedented study to monitor the health of up to 200,000 Soviet citizens who were exposed to radiation in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.

The long-term study will be the largest human epidemiological study ever undertaken. A similar study involving the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki included 80,000 people.

Thus the Chernobyl study's sheer magnitude--aside from the implications of radiation's human health effects--could generate medical data across a broad spectrum never before assembled.

At a Los Angeles press conference, Hammer and Gale also announced creation of the Armand Hammer Center for Advanced Studies in Nuclear Energy and Health, which will sponsor the work of physicians and scientists from several nations as well as their Soviet counterparts in the Chernobyl study.

Financed by Hammer

Hammer said he will personally finance the Los Angeles-based center, but he declined to reveal further financial details. Gale is to serve as president of the center. Hammer is chairman of Occidental Petroleum.

Recommendations for the Chernobyl study were developed at a July 8 meeting in Los Angeles of 19 leading scientists from the United States, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Argentina and the Netherlands. The group included radiation biologists, geneticists and hematologists.

Hammer said some of the recommendations have already been communicated to the Soviets. "They are in agreement," he said, "and are looking forward to our arrival."

Gale did not disclose any details of the Chernobyl study, but the general outline is already known. Soviet investigators are to attempt to identify every individual who was within a 30-kilometer (19-mile) radius of the Chernobyl plant at the time of the April accident.

The health of these individuals will be assessed, and then they will be monitored for the rest of their lives.

Other Concerns

"We are concerned not only about long-term cancer, genetic effects and teratogenesis (birth defects)," Gale said, "but also about cataracts, impairment of the immune system and damage to other tissues."

Gale noted that there is "some urgency" in getting the project under way. "Many of the women who were exposed to radiation were pregnant. We need to find them, determine the age of the fetus at exposure, and find out what happens to them before it is too late," he said.

The Soviets will play the major role in the Chernobyl study, Gale said. Soviet physicians will have to register all the people and provide them medical care. The international team of experts is to help primarily in the design of the study to reduce eventual ambiguities in interpretation of the data and in that interpretation itself.

"We have had extensive experience in this area, so we would like the Russians to have the benefit of our experience," Gale said.

He also disclosed at the airport press conference that a television-telephone link between Los Angeles and the Soviet Union will be established to facilitate communications and the exchange of data.

While in the Soviet Union, Gale is to check on the health of the 300 patients at Hospital No. 6 whom he helped treat on an earlier visit. "I spoke to Dr. (Andrei) Vorobiev five days ago," Gale said, "and he said there had been no further fatalities since I left, although many of the patients are still hospitalized." Gale said 24 of those patients had died previously.

Gale and Hammer also plan to go to Kiev, about 80 miles south of Chernobyl, to examine 200 patients Gale treated there. Earlier this week, Hammer arranged for the shipment of additional medical supplies to aid in treating those patients.

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