CNI & the Baby Tooth Survey

button-gave teeth to science

In the late 1950s, Michael joined the St. Louis Citizen's Committee for Nuclear Information, aka CNI. This group had its genesis in concern about the fallout from above-ground nuclear weapons tests.

One central part of this was the idea of studying how radioactive Strontium-90 from these tests would fall to the ground, be absorbed by grasses, ingested by cows eating the grass, and then absorbed by children drinking the milk from those cows. Sr-90 is chemically akin to calcium which is found in tooth enamel, and thus the Sr-90 would collect there, too. Thus, by studying baby teeth, one could determine the extent of exposure.

The Baby Tooth Survey was the resulting study from this concept, and achieved national recognition.

Moreover, CNI and the Baby Tooth Survey were considered an important factor in President Kennedy's and Congress' support for the 1963 Above-Ground Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

A full history of CNI, a 128 page monograph called "Nuclear Democracy," was written in 1982 as an undergraduate honors thesis by William C. Sullivan, Jr. To this date it is considerd the most complete history of CNI yet compiled (and one for which Michael was interviewed). In 2022, Mr. Sullivan granted permision to include a scanned/OCR'ed PDF of the document here, which makes for fascinating reading.

As children, my sister Rachel and I (David) both participated in the Survey. So, instead of simply putting our teeth under our pillows for the Tooth Fairy, we mailed them off to the Survey. (Well, we did put them under our pillow and then the Tooth Fairy mailed off the teeth to the Survey!) A spare copy of the submission form we used is shown below.

Postcard for submissions to the Baby Tooth Survey

survey card, front survey card, back

By the late 1960s, early 1970s, the group had morphed from CNI to CEI, the Committee for Environmental Information. By either name, however, it was considered an early precursor to the environmental movement in the United States. Its journal also had multiple names over the years, from Nuclear Information to Scientist and Citizen to Environment.

The "Nuclear Democracy" monograph introduces Michael as "a long-time member of CNI and was one of its more eloquent and active speakers" (page 6 of monograph, page 12 of PDF). Another of the articles below identifies him as "Chairman of the Scientific Division" of CNI.

Another article about the Baby Tooth Survey was published in 2014 on The Appendix web site (see below) by two doctoral students in Communications at Cornell University. Michael and Jessica were credited as two of the seven sources in the acknowledgements at the article's end.

The "Public Activism Makes a Difference" writing, below, is interesting because it draws a direct link between his work for CNI and his decades-long advocacy for academic freedom and tenure in American Universities.

Post-Dispatch Baby Tooth Survey legacy
Decades later, Baby Tooth Survey legacy lives on

Post-Dispatch, August 1, 2013 (quotes Michael)
Michael speaks about CNI
Video of 20 minute talk by Michael

on CNI, Baby Tooth Survey, Academic Freedom
Missouri History Museum, August 1, 2013
Nuclear Democracy cover
Nuclear Democracy

©1982 William Sullivan
Used with permission. [PDF 21MB, 128pp]
How Many Children
How Many Children?

Environment Magazine (CEI)
December 1969
Post Dispatch article 1968
Protests Fail to Stop Tests

Post-Dispatch, April 23, 1968
Nuclear powered gasbuggy
Nuclear Powered Gasbuggy

Scientist and Citizen
1968
Nuclear Digging
Nuclear Digging

Scientist and Citizen, 1964
This article comprised the entire issue!
Post Dispatch article 1962
CNI urges abandonment of nuclear race

Post-Dispatch, August 08, 1962
CNI Speakers
CNI speakers about nuclear testing

Post-Dispatch, May 23, 1962
Project Chariot
Project Chariot article rebuttal

Science, August 18, 1961
Project Chariot/Science
Predictions of Fallout from Project Chariot

Nuclear Information
1961, Vol 3.