A new study has found that risks from radiation exposure to people involved in the Chernobyl incident may be much less significant than most of us think.
The research, published online in BioMedCentral Public Health, compares the health risks from radiation exposure following the Chernobyl incident with the more common risks of air pollution, passive smoking and obesity. All of the risks studied showed a relatively small increase (around 1%) in mortality rates.
Dr Jim Smith from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, who carried out the research, said, “The perception is that there are big risks to public health from radiation exposure. This study shows that for the population exposed to significant doses of radiation from the Chernobyl incident, the risks of premature death are no greater than those of being subjected to prolonged passive smoking, or of constantly over-eating. We can all face such health risks just going about our ordinary daily lives.”
Dr Smith has worked in the contaminated Chernobyl exclusion zone and has found that wildlife thrives in that region. Some people still living there unofficially are surviving well into their seventies.
Dr Smith said, “One of my reasons for comparing everyday risks with those of radiation contamination was the way in which contaminated Chernobyl refugees felt rejected by society. Our understandable fear of radiation needs to be placed in the context of other risks we encounter in our daily lives if we are to properly understand, and respond to, the potential impacts of any future radiation incidents.”
There are significant uncertainties in the calculation of health risks for all of the risk factors studied by a factor of two or so higher or lower. All of the risk factors studied have impacts on morbidity (illness) as well as mortality.
The study was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council.
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