The Mandan Milk Mystery…

Sometime in 1957, federal agents secured a creamery in Mandan and shut it down apparently without saying a word to anyone locally. It became known as the Mandan Milk Mystery because of the secrecy of the seizure.

The USDA discovered the milk that was processed in that creamery had a high level of a beta radiation called strontium 90 that has a decay rate or half life of 28 years. The milk was coming from dairy farms in Morton, Oliver, Sioux and Grant counties, and the USDA learned of localized hot spots, no pun intended.

To this day, there remains a lot of speculation, but what is known is strontium 90 has a chemical make up almost identical to calcium, and the half life ended in 2014 with half life of that number to take another 28 years to 2042. The strontium 90 was released and drifted over the northern plains from nuclear tests in Nevada and Utah from 1951 to 1958. As it rained down on North Dakota, it was absorbed into the grass, the cows ate the grass and passed the radiation into the milk that was processed in the Creamery.

In 1988, Robert Tarkalson used the Mandan Milk Mystery as his master’s degree thesis at the University of Montana in Missoula. This was two years after the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl.

According to Tarkalson’s research, Rapid City, Salt Lake City and Los Angeles were also tested for high levels of strontium 90 with raw milk and powdered milk in Mandan testing much higher than the other three locations.

How much higher? When the other three cities were experiencing 5 picocuries per gram of strontium 90, Mandan had 19 picocuries per gram, and some “farm communities” not named in the thesis carried 36 picocuries per gram which was an obvious hazard for youth. Thus, the creamery was shut down.

Fast forward to the early 1990s. Sheryn Doll of Mandan grew up in Hebron and had multiple sclerosis. She claimed she contracted it from drinking strontium 90 laced milk when she was a child. Dr. Stephen McDonough, a state health officer, was later questioned about this link being a possibility. He said it was certainly, a possibility but there wasn’t any research to prove or disprove it.

About that same time, a book at the North Dakota State Library called the Post Soviet Press told of the Chernobyl explosion through the eyes of those who were there trying to stop the fire that actually carried strontium 90 all across Europe and the Soviet Union. Some of the Soviet soldiers who were involved in the fire were contracting MS, and this was approximately nine years after Chernobyl went boom.

It’s no secret that North Dakota has one of the highest rates of MS in the United States, and our next door neighbor Saskatchewan has the highest rate in Canada. There are all sorts of theories about what causes MS, and some say it has to do with nothing more than us living at higher latitudes. But if you connect the dots - the woman in Mandan who was confined to a wheelchair at 50 years old, the health officer in Bismarck who believed the link was credible, and the Soviet soldiers who contracted MS from the Chernobyl explosion - you have to believe it is more than just a coincidence.

There was also a book called “Downwind in North Dakota,” that was written by Byron Dorgan. The Mandan Milk Mystery isn’t mentioned in the book, but there’s a lot of information about specific blast sights and how the resulting radiation was carried northeastward and began falling on places like Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota and Saskatchewan.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody else has claimed to have contracted MS from drinking laced milk as a child, at least not publicly. It should also be noted that in his thesis, Tarkalson writes that the disintegration rate of the radiation was quite rapid, but doesn’t use actual numbers. Half life aside, the significant thing about strontium 90 is it is also considered a source of bone cancer and leukemia, should the spinal cord be involved.

Significance of any radiation is that it will never cease to exist. The radiation will continue to decay to a point of insignificance, but there will always be a positive number. There needs to be more and deeper research about this to prove or disprove that strontium 90 in milk could be a trigger for MS.

Stay tuned to this space for more detailed information on this subject in the coming weeks.

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