Sometimes Satan Comes as a Man of Peace

Of all the things Lance Armstrong’s blood was tested for, was it ever tested for plutonium?

Two guys who knew you had to lie to win. We all know about Lance Armstrong… General Leslie Groves led the secret Manhattan Project to build the bombs that landed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He managed to hide a budget of $2 billion from Congress (1945 dollars!), censor all news about the project and the splitting of the atom (which had been reported in mass media before 1942) and conceal the nature of the project from almost all of the thousands of people working on it. He wouldn't have sought forgiveness in a sit-down with Oprah.

Competitive sport is thought to be a safe and healthy expression of humanity’s tendency toward political and military domination. Yet as in war and realpolitik, we see in sport the quest for power, we see greed trampling over ethics, we see enmity, hypocrisy and duplicity. Sorry, tell me again why we thought this was the healthy side of humanity’s competitive spirit. By now we should see in the endless sports scandals that it might have been a mistake to think that sport is a benign form of competition. We see that the logic of competition, in sport, business, finance and politics, unavoidably fills the top rungs with those whose strategy was cheating concealed under a veneer of honor and righteousness.
Lance Armstrong’s tragic fall from grace should indicate that the flaw is not in him but in us. We placed no upper limit on competitive tendencies we support, and this necessitated that the best cheaters and most ruthless competitors would rise to the top. If it hadn't been Lance, it would have been someone else who was willing to cheat, clever enough to avoid detection, and ruthless enough to destroy friends and teammates who blew the whistle.
Lance Armstrong’s strategy was exactly the same as all states that have acquired nuclear weapons. They make a pretense of being upstanding global citizens, but the long game is to lie, cheat and deny long enough to ultimately prevail. Israel, for example, knows what Iran is doing because Iran is playing with Israel’s nuclear playbook.
It should be obvious that the lust for power itself is the problem, and the human race should be taking a cognitive leap in its evolution by curtailing the glorification of competition, even in sport. Let’s tie ourselves to the mast as we sail past the sirens that tempt us toward our own destruction. We got Lance to sit down with Oprah and confess his sins, and this is likely to be the first step in his losing all the financial assets that we bestowed upon him. It’s too bad we can’t do the same thing to hypocrites on the world stage who spend hundreds of billions of dollars renewing their nuclear arsenals while they mouth platitudes about keeping the world safe.
A good way to change the world might be to change what we think of as acceptable outlets of competitive impulses. We should all be disgusted enough with the doping scandals and the excessive financial rewards of professional sport (the “amateur” Olympics included). It’s time that we valued sporting events that emphasize health, joy and participation over spectating. There would still be winners and losers, but if we developed cultural beliefs that the prizes should be small and the winners be humble, there is a chance this attitude might spill over into our economic systems and international relations.
Lance Armstrong’s story is connected to the nuclear arms race in another way. There is a possibility that his cancer was caused by plutonium, the ultimate symbol of man’s competitive excess. If it was not by plutonium, it was by any of the other evils that have contaminated the environment. But this is a subject in his life story that seems to have received no attention.
People don’t like to speculate about the causes of a particular cancer, and understandably so. There is nothing to be gained for an individual in brooding over past mistakes or blaming parents for where they lived or what they fed their children. Cancer doesn’t leave a calling card telling “this tumor brought to you by hexavalent chromium” or whatever the cause may be.
The emphasis in charity foundations, like Armstrong’s Livestrong, has been mostly on helping patients and funding research for “finding the cure.” This is fine, as people have a right to donate their money to whatever causes they wish, but it is curious that we give so little thought to eliminating the causes of cancer. As Bob Dylan said, “sometimes the devil comes as a man of peace.” Our heroes and noble causes have ways of blinding us to the important questions like, “Why was testicular cancer almost unknown before the nuclear age?” Our expectations have lost touch with formerly common sense understandings of nature and human nature. We should be outraged that a young man got cancer, but not surprised that he cheated to win. Did you really think he won the Tour de France clean when all the other top riders had been busted for doping? Did you really think it was normal for teenage boys to get testicular cancer?
There have been studies on plutonium in animals, and there is a shameful history of experiments on uninformed, and sometimes captive, human subjects (see Eileen Welsome’s The Plutonium Files: America's Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War). It is known that plutonium accumulates in the gonads at high levels and causes tumors, and that this can happen while it exists at low levels elsewhere in the body. This finding prompted experts to suggest that existing standards were a poor way to measure whether a person was at risk from occupational exposure.
It is known that plutonium can travel on the wind, and not just in dirt particles. This important difference was found by Carl Johnson when he analyzed house dust in homes southeast of the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons factory in Colorado.
It is known that nuclear facilities and nuclear contamination were spread throughout North America during the age of weapons testing and production. Some sites were giant factories like Hanford and Oak Ridge, while others were sub-contracted cottage industry metal shops that existed secretly in residential areas of small towns. There are some sites that are extremely contaminated national sacrifice zones, from which the contamination spread out to surrounding communities. No place was unaffected. We all have plutonium in our bodies.
Lance Armstrong grew up in Plano, Texas, and famous American plutonium factories nearby were in Amarillo, Texas (523 km to the west) and Crescent, Oklahoma (where Karen Silkwood worked, 326 km to the north). Experts at the Department of Energy would say it is impossible that there was a risk at these distances, but there are many unanswered questions about plutonium contamination, and all the places where it was produced and transported are unknowable. If I were Lance Armstrong, I’d be curious to know more.
But of course Lance had other goals. He would have damaged his brand value with corporate sponsors if he had raised uncomfortable questions about the US government’s environmental contamination and its liability for cancer cases.
In the same way, researchers had nothing to gain by pursuing epidemiological studies of plutonium. You would think doctors would want to check for the element in every testicle and ovary removed from cancer patients, but the large-scale research required would need government funding, and the government has no motive to fund research that might conclude it is liable for damages in thousands of cancer cases. Researchers know this and don’t even bother to apply for grants.
This historical record shows how long it took tobacco companies to admit the health damage cause by their products. Eventually, they had to pay $206 billion to the state governments that sued them for health care costs. In the case of plutonium contamination, there are no powerful state agencies to act as plaintiffs. They and their contractors are the defendants. The Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act of 2000 provided compensation to “energy workers” but government responsibility for the health effects on the general population has never been acknowledged. If Lance Armstrong wants to redeem himself, this is an area he could devote himself to. This time he might realize the virtues of walking the path of the unsung, unsponsored hero.

Supporting sources – quotations and comments:

Leslie Fuger. “From Potatoes to Plutonium.” Boise Weekly. March 16, 2005.

“According to a 2004 report by the National Center for Environmental Health of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is abundant evidence in areas surrounding the Los Alamos National Laboratory - the site after which INL's [Idaho National Laboratory] complex would be modeled - that hazardous emissions are escaping the facility despite DOE's best efforts to contain it. The CDC concluded that the soil surrounding LANL contains as much as 100 times more plutonium than was previously estimated. According to the same report, Los Alamos County has an abnormally high rate of breast, melanoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, ovary, prostate, testicular and thyroid cancers, and Los Alamos residents, even those who have never worked at the lab itself, have more plutonium in their bodies than any one other county nationwide.”

C. V. Beechey, D. Green, E. R. Humphries & A. G. Searle. “Cytogenetic effects of plutonium-239 in male mice.” Nature 256, 577 - 578 (14 August 1975); doi:10.1038/256577a0

“Green et al. have recently shown, however, that plutonium reaching the testis after intravenous injection of 239Pu citrate into CBA mice concentrates in the interstitial tissue, outside the seminiferous tubules. They calculated that the average dose rate to spermatogonial stem cells, in which genetic damage can accumulate, was about 2–2.5 times that to the whole testis. In these circumstances, the genetically significant dose is higher than the average tissue dose, which is that normally used for protection purposes.”

Dr. Carl Johnson's work is discussed on pages 182-183. He found plutonium concentrations in house dust were higher than in soil - showing that plutonium particles did not stay bound to heavier dirt particles. They could travel through the air much farther than was previously thought. Carl Johnson also found levels in soil, in an area planned for housing development, that exceeded the government limit by a factor of 7. 

Michael Castleman. "Why Johnny Can't Have Kids." Mother Jones. April 1982. pages 14-18.

“20 common industrial chemicals have been linked to human reproductive impairment.”
“Testicular cancer rates have doubled among whites and tripled among blacks since 1950… it has become one of the most common solid malignant tumors in men aged 15-35… A century ago, testicular cancer was virtually unheard of in men under 50. By 1960, men under 25 accounted for 12 per cent of cases. Today they account for more than 26 per cent.”
This article also referred to Carl Johnson’s work near Rocky Flats. He found that upwind from the site there were 17 cases of testicular cancer, while downwind there were 40. Skeptics responded that the finding was inconclusive because cancer clusters can be randomly distributed in patterns that are meaningless. (If you throw 1000 pennies into the air over an empty parking lot, they won’t land evenly spaced. They will cluster in some places.) But perhaps the randomness of clusters is not the issue. The futility of looking for geographical patterns is evident when we realize that there is no longer an untouched control group to compare to. There is no pure population. Chemical and radiological causes are confounded with those associated with lifestyle, diet and “genetics,” and I put this term in quotation marks because when genetic damage, in an individual or across generations, is caused by radiation and toxins, there is nothing about it that we should fatalistically accept as “naturally occurring” mutation.

Testicular Cancer and Exposure to Ionizing Radiation. JSI Center for Environmental Health Studies

“Rate of testicular cancer incidence was very high in Los Alamos County, while mortality was  very low. Los Alamos County ranked highest in the incidence of testicular cancer among the 33 counties in New Mexico from 1970 to 1996. In recent years, about one to two cases have occurred annually in the county.
There was a consistent increase in incidence between 1984 and 1997.”


“LAC [Los Alamos County] residents experienced an 82% elevation in testicular cancer when compared with the New Mexico state reference population.”
“Cancer incidence rates that were significantly elevated in LAC when compared to the state reference population rates included breast, melanoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, ovary, prostate, testis (significant at the 90% confidence interval), and thyroid cancers.  Cancer mortality rates that were significantly elevated in LAC when compared to the state reference population rates include breast cancer.”
The author of the paper wrote that rates were “significantly elevated,” but noted, “When studying small populations, for example LAC, the small number of cancer cases results in unstable incidence and mortality rates, large confidence intervals, and a loss of determination in whether a rate is really statistically significant.”


9. Processed Uranium from Oxford, Ohio. Washington Nuclear Museum and Educational Center. September 15, 2010.
For a fuller description of this example of America’s nuclear cottage industry in Oxford, Ohio, see: Robert R. Johnson. Romancing the Atom: Nuclear Infatuation from the Radium Girls to Fukushima. p. 98-139. 2012.

Ward Wilson. “The Myth of Nuclear Necessity.” The New York Times. January 13, 2013.

Ward Wilson. "The Bomb Didn't Beat Japan - Stalin Did." Foreign Policy National Security. May 29, 2013.

12. Wikipedia: List of Doping Cases in Cycling. Hundreds of incidents listed, from 1880s to 2012.

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