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Letter from Linus Pauling to D. Mead Johnson. January 9, 1959.
Pauling writes to Johnson to discuss the physiological impacts of Strontium-90 ingestion and to suggest a potential product to eliminate Strontium-90 intake from milk.




9 January 1959

Mr. D. Mead Johnson, President

Mead Johnson

2505 Pennsylvania Avenue

Evansville 21, Indiana

Dear Sir:

I am writing about a proposed new pharmaceutical product, in the hope that you would be interested in putting it on the market. I may say that I first wrote to Dr. George Rieveschl, Jr., of Parke, Davis and Company, because of the interest that I have in Parke, Davis and my personal acquaintance with Dr. Rieveschl, and it is at his suggestion that I now write to you.

You know what the situation is about strontium-90. Children now have much more strontium-90 in their bones than adults have, and the amount will continue to increase, even if the bomb tests are stopped, until twenty years from now nearly everybody will have amounts perhaps ten times the present average. If the tests are continued, the amounts will be larger—Dr. Libby in 1955 estimated 24 micromicrocuries per gram of calcium as the equilibrium level corresponding to testing at the average rate for the years before 1955.

In my book No More War! I have estimated that testing at the recent average age probably will cause about 10,000 people to die of leukemia and bone cancer and possibly 90,000 others by other diseases, for each year of testing. This means that for the United States alone (the above figures are for the whole world) the tests carried out so far can be estimated probably to produce approximately the above number of deaths, during the period of action of the fallout products from these tests.

The principal damage by strontium-90 from the bomb tests carried out so far will be to people who are infants during the period beginning a few years ago and ending around the year 2000.

If we assume that 200,000,000 children are born between now and the year 2000, and about 100,000 of them were to incur leukemia, bone cancer, or other disease because of the ingested strontium-90, only about one child in 2,000 would be affected, and the question may be raised as to whether this chance of serious damage to the health of the person justifies taking any measure of protection. I think that the chance of one in 2,000 of having twenty years cut off one's life expectancy in this way is enough to justify some protective effort, even though we must recognize that there is also a possibility that a much smaller number of people will be affected, as discussed in the section beginning on page 96 of my book. For example, the loss in earnings over a 20-year period might be estimated at $100,000, and on this basis an expenditure of $50 (corresponding to a chance of one in 2,000) per person would be justified on the financial basis.

There is, moreover, another fact to be taken into consideration. Many mothers are now concerned about the fact that strontium-90 is being built into the bones of their children. It might well be worth while to take some action that would relieve their concern to some extent.

What I propose for your consideration is that you put on the market a preparation of calcium free from strontium-90. This preparation, perhaps calcium dihydrogen phosphate or calcium gluconate, would be in a form such as to permit it to be added to the diet of the infant or child every day—a powder that could be added to milk, for example. If the amount of calcium ingested in this way were equal to the amount ingested from other sources, contaminated with strontium-90, the amount of strontium-90 built into the bones would be cut in half. It is important, of course, that the amount of added calcium not be such as to increase the total calcium intake to such an extent as to have harmful consequences. Possibly the amount of calcium (free of strontium-90) taken in this way could be twice or three times the amount ingested in other ways, so that the amount of strontium-90 built into the bones could be cut to one third or one quarter of the amount that would be built in without treatment.

It is important also that the preparation be taken by pregnant women.

In addition to this preparation, I think that the calcium free of strontium-90 should be added to baby foods and baby-food supplements. It may be that a single preparation, some form of baby-food supplement, could be made that would take care of the total intake of strontium-90, including both vegetables and milk.

Calcium free of strontium-90 is, of course, easily available. Ordinary calcium that has not been exposed to fallout from the atmosphere during recent years contains no strontium-90.

I shall be interested to hear what your feelings are about this matter. I want to emphasize that in my opinion the preparation would serve a useful purpose in addition to cutting down on the amount of strontium-90 in the bones; namely, the purpose of relieving the minds of mothers, to some extent, about this hazard.

Sincerely yours,

Linus Pauling:JH


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