Children, unborn most at radiation risk

March 14, 2011 at 8:06 PM
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OCEAN CITY, N.J., March 14 (UPI) -- Children and women who are pregnant are at most immediate risk from any radiation released by nuclear reactors in Japan, a U.S. radiation expert says.

"All humans exposed to radiation suffer harm," Dr. Janette Sherman, adjunct professor at the environmental institute at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and the Radiation and Public Health Project, says.

"The fetus, infant and child are much more susceptible than adults for two reasons. First, the immune system in the young is underdeveloped, and less able to repair damage from radiation exposure. Second, young cells are dividing very rapidly, and a cell damaged by radiation in a fetus or infant is much more likely to result in a birth defect or cancer than in an adult."

However, adults should also be monitored because people absorb radiation from reactor emissions via inhalation, food and water, Sherman says.

Sherman, an internist and toxicologist, is editor of a 2010 book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, "Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment," that claims, based on previously classified post-Soviet records and reports by Eastern European scientists and medical experts, an estimated 985,000 people have died as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in Ukraine 25 years ago -- a much higher figure than other sources have arrived at.

"What harm we can expect to occur from the Japanese nuclear plant emissions has been well-documented in the people, animals, birds, and plants that were exposed to fallout to Chernobyl," Sherman says in a statement.

Most immediately, Sherman says among the conditions that must be monitored are:

-- Premature and low weight births.

-- Birth defects.

-- Still births or fetal deaths.

-- Infant deaths.

-- Spontaneous abortions or miscarriages.

-- Infant leukemia and cancer.

-- Newborn hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid.

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