Health concerns after exposure to radioactive radium in Henlow

A WOMAN who lived on a site which has been identified as radioactively contaminated with radium is worried that this could explain her family’s poor health.

Last month The Comet reported that, in response to a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had published details of sites where soil contaminated with radium had been identified, as part of an update to the 2010 UK Radioactive Waste Inventory.

RAF Henlow, where the families of servicemen are provided with accommodation at Henlow Camp by the MoD, was one of more than a dozen current or former MoD sites identified as testing positive for the low-level contaminant.

Radium was used to illuminate aircraft instruments during World War II so they could be seen in the dark.

A spokesman for the MoD said “the risk to site users and the public is negligible”, but Maria Nugent, who lived at Henlow Camp with her family when her father was in the Royal Air Force during the 1970s, is concerned exposure to radium could be the root cause of her family’s poor health.

Ms Nugent, who now lives in Hitchin, lived at Henlow Camp for seven years, until aged nine, with her parents, two sisters and brother.

Now aged 44, Ms Nugent says she and her family have suffered years of ill health and wonders if this could be linked to the radium.

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“It started with me,” she said. “When I was about 24 I was diagnosed with having an underactive thyroid.”

Ms Nugent has subsequently contracted a number of illnesses, including emphysema, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, folic acid anaemia, diabetes, a heart murmur, migraines and sleep apnoea.

From the age of 26, she has also suffered from an allergy to the sun. “If the sun is strong I will blister, even though I take tablets,” she explained.

“It was about 10 years before my mum started getting the illnesses which I had. She died three years ago, but they don’t know what killed her.

“She hit 60 and then couldn’t walk or anything anymore. She was 72 when she died, but she had lived in a vegetative state for 10 years.”

Ms Nugent said one of her sisters has now started getting some of the shared illnesses, including arthritis and fibromyalgia.

“My older brother has various illnesses but he won’t talk about it,” said Ms Nugent, and explained that she is estranged from her other sister, so is unaware of any health conditions she may have. Her father died of throat and mouth cancer.

Ms Nugent said she and her family were unaware of the radium at Henlow Camp and that she was shocked when she read The Comet article.

“Now I’m worried about the burning I used to have when I was there,” she said. “When I was in Henlow my whole body would burn and my eyes would burn. Normally it would be after I went swimming.”

She added: “We used to cover such ground there. You could go anywhere at any time. We used to have tea parties under the buildings.”

She concluded: “My sister and I can’t understand how one family can be so ill. How can so much go wrong with one family?”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “We are not aware of anything in scientific literature to indicate that medical effects of the types described could be caused by any form of radiation exposure resulting from the historic use of radium to make military equipment luminous.”

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