The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Dr Alice Stewart

Alice Stewart.jpg

The following is kindly reposted from the  facebook page of Bob Alvarez

“Dr. Alice M. Stewart, a dear family friend, at our home in the late 1970’s.

Her findings, first published in 1955, suggesting that a single x-ray of the fetus could lead to childhood cancer provided the first human evidence that there was no safe dose of ionizing radiation. Although the British nuclear establishment, led by Richard Doll, blocked her promotion at Oxford University and prevented British government funding, the US food and Drug Administration (FDA) supported her research for several years. In the 1970’s, the FDA advised doctors against exposing pregnant women to x-rays.

By then Alice had built a massive set of data known as the Oxford Survey of Childhood Cancers (20,000 cases and matching controls from all children born in Britain following WWII). It took decades before fetal x-rays were effectively banned by the medical profession in the late 1970’s. By that time, according to the British Journal of Medicine, one child in Britain was dying every week from cancer due to exposure in the womb from x-rays.

In 1990, the International Commission of Radiological Protection (ICRP) acknowledged the high sensitivity to the unborn and set a low annual occupational limit (100mr/yr – 50 times lower than an adult worker) for exposure to the fetus and embryo. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, because of pressure from reactor operators, has yet to follow the ICRP’s recommendation.

In the late 1970’s through the 1990’s, research by Alice and her colleagues, Thomas Mancuso and George Kneale of the cancer risks among U.S. nuclear weapons workers, paved the way for a national compensation program for thousands of sick workers.”


More about……

The Woman who Knew Too Much

This biography illuminates the life and achievements of the remarkable woman scientist who revolutionized the concept of radiation risk.

In the 1950s Alice Stewart began research that led to her discovery that fetal X rays double a child’s risk of developing cancer. Two decades later—when she was in her seventies—she again astounded the scientific world with a study showing that the U.S. nuclear weapons industry is about twenty times more dangerous than safety regulations permit. This finding put her at the center of the international controversy over radiation risk. In 1990, the New York Times called Stewart “perhaps the Energy Department’s most influential and feared scientific critic.”

The Woman Who Knew Too Much traces Stewart’s life and career from her early childhood in Sheffield to her medical education at Cambridge to her research positions at Oxford University and the University of Birmingham.

Gayle Greene is Professor of Women’s Studies and Literature, Scripps College.

Praise / Awards

  • “For those who are intrigued by others’ life experience, this book has all the necessary ingredients: loyalty; love and a life that has been lived to the full [sic]. For those who relish the triumph of tenacity over adversity, this story illuminates the fight of those who believe that science may do harm as well as good and those who think that too rigid an application of regulation may stifle research which is contrary to received wisdom.”
    —Carol Barton, Medicine, Conflict and Survival, April-June 2001
  • “. . . a compelling portrait of the twentieth century, and an inspiring tale of what can be achieved through brains and determination.”
    —Tom Schouweiler, Ruminator Review, Spring 2002
  • “The book is valuable for highlighting the ways in which radiation risks have been defined politically and socially, and how the bearers of bad tidings have been marginalized by powerful vested interests, their research frustrated and their findings discredited.”
    —David Cantor, National Institutes of Health, Medical History, October 2001



3 thoughts on “The Woman Who Knew Too Much: Dr Alice Stewart

  1. Pingback: This week in nuclear news | Nuclear Australia

  2. Pingback: Australian nuclear news, and more. Sorry no cricket story. « Antinuclear

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