Chronic Radiation Exposure Research
In an attempt to understand the effects of long-term, low-dose radiation exposure, we are working on a research project in the Rivne-Polissia region of Ukraine, an area affected by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. With the Department of Medical Genetics at the University of South Alabama, College of Medicine (W. Wertelecki), the Rivne Regional Diagnostic Medical Genetics Center (L. Yevtushock) and the Volyn Children's Hospital (S. Lapchenko), Binghamton University's Biomedical Anthropology Program (K. Needham and R.M. Garruto) is attempting to understand the mechanisms of chronic radiation exposure of pregnant mothers and their birth outcomes.
The high rates of neural tube defects and developmental disorders prompted our study of dietary and subsistence activities of pregnant mothers in order to assess exposure to Cesium 137 (Cs 137) through contaminated soil, locally grown food, water, milk, smoke and dust in the region. Our survey indicates that most foods consumed in this region are locally grown or wild and thought to be contaminated to varying degrees with Cs 137. Although the government has recommended that milk be imported because of the risk of contamination of locally produced milk, less than 5 percent of individuals consume imported milk. All participants in our study report consuming local vegetables (none imported), and 97 percent of the major fruits consumed are locally grown. Furthermore, 73 percent report obtaining water from wells or brooks, which are likely contaminated. In addition, 30 percent drank alcoholic beverages, often as homemade or local beer and liquor. Information about outdoor activities, particularly agricultural and gardening-practices, and contact with contaminated soil or smoke from burning biomass was also obtained. Overall, our data indicate that part of the population of the Rivne-Polissia region consume diets that may be deficient in micronutrients, consume alcohol during pregnancy and are exposed chronically to Cs 137. The extent to which each of these factors may be involved in birth defects and developmental nervous system disorders is currently unknown and under investigation by our research team. Our expectation is that this research program will be expanded to include an evaluation of radiation exposure and health outcomes across the lifespan, and include children of all ages as well as adults.
Image credit: http://www.ollisalo.net/gal/cher/36.jpg