Danger of leukaemia: residents should monitor radiation

Granite Hong Kong is built on emits harmful rays, then there're multiple radiation sources including reactors over the border. Unexplained sudden energy bursts occur regularly

HK Observatory's Daya Bay emergency contingency plans make interesting reading.
HK Observatory’s Daya Bay emergency contingency plans make interesting reading.

People with small children should monitor radiation in their environments, according to two former City University academics who live in Sai Kung.  In fact all residents should do so.  The academics are Dr Robin Bradbeer, a chartered physicist who lost her step-son to leukaemia, and Paul Hodgson, who operates gamma ray monitoring stations. 

Leukaemia is the most common cancer in children in Hong Kong, Dr Bradbeer said. Fifty to sixty cases of the bone marrow and white blood cell attacking cancer are diagnosed each year. Four children who lived in one Sai Kung village have died of leukaemia, she said.

Gamma rays are the most harmful type of radiation. They can affect the DNA in all the cells in our bodies. There are multiple sources of radiation: decomposing radioactive material in the granite Hong Kong is built on, rays of the sun, medical equipment, cell phones, radio waves. Across the border at Daya Bay, 30kms from Sai Kung, nuclear reactors operate for military, medical and power generation purposes. Whether the rays emitted are harmful depends on the amount of exposure and the type.

Radon emitted from Hong Kong's granite can attack DNA of cells in our bodies. Too many children are diagnosed with leukaemia.
Radon emitted from Hong Kong’s granite can attack DNA of cells in our bodies. Too many children are diagnosed with leukaemia.

The Observatory monitors our daily gamma ray “dose rate” and publishes it with hourly updates. The nearest monitoring stations to us are at Tap Mun and Yuen Ng Fan in the country park. The rate at the former is usually a steady 0.08 microsievert per hour and at the latter 0.11. To check this out, look up radiation monitoring on the Observatory’s website. Hong Kong is one of the few cities in the world with such hourly reporting of radiation levels.

Dr Bradbeer said her stepson, Ron, killed by leukaemia, may have contracted the disease because they lived over an underground carpark where radon from granite accumulated.  This is why underground carparks must be well ventilated. 

Paul Hodgson, a San Liu resident, said parents should install gamma ray monitoring devices that cost about $1000 and run on 9-volt batteries.  “If the gamma ray level at your home is dangerously high, move,” he said. “Or at least ventilate well.”

Dangerous radiation can accumulate in underground car parks. You may have high radiation in your home: Check
Dangerous radiation can accumulate in underground car parks. You may have high radiation in your home: Check

Paul runs a company called Oceanway Corporation, which has been monitoring the marine environment at Hoi Ha with Robin for 26 years. He has gamma ray monitoring devices at Hoi Ha, Kowloon Tong and near the new petrol station on Hiram’s Highway.

The devices have detected “events” four times in recent years. “Normally they record three to eight beeps a minute,” Paul said. “About three years ago the beep rate went suddenly to 38 a minute.”

Something big had occurred.  Radioactivity blasted our district for about four minutes then declined over an hour, Paul said. “The World Health Organisation says that if the beep rate is over 12 you should leave the area.” Paul called the Ob

servatory and was told its monitoring stations were all down simultaneously for maintenance. “I thought this interesting.”

He said he telephoned the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “I was told the most likely explanation was that there was a reactor nearby where they were been playing with plutonium. The wind was from the north.”

Three further times such “events” have occurred, Paul said, usually in October. “Whatever they are doing they have to vent radioactivity regularly.” 

Robin Bradbeer, a chartered physicist, said she has seen the data and confirms these radioactivity bursts have happened, “but I wouldn’t want to speculate as to the cause.” Robin is a former professor of robotics at the City University where Paul also worked as a lecturer and research fellow in electronic engineering. 

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