Study finds Chernobyl risks last years

March 18, 2011 at 8:24 PM
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BETHESDA, Md., March 18 (UPI) -- A U.S. study of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster finds health risks linger 25 years after the explosion that spread radiation over a huge swath of Europe.

A study released Thursday by the National Cancer Institute indicates children and teenagers who drank contaminated milk or ate affected cheese in the days and weeks after the explosion still suffer from an increased risk of thyroid cancer, The New York Times reported.

International researchers led by the institute, a federal agency based in Bethesda, Md., have been monitoring the health effects of the Chernobyl accident for years, the newspaper reported.

The study confirms earlier studies on the cancer risks of radioactive iodine, which can accumulate in the thyroid gland.

Radioactive iodine has a half-life of eight days and Russian authorities did not believe it was present outside the Chernobyl plant in concentrations high enough to cause immediate health problems. But cows can concentrate the isotope in their milk, and children who drank contaminated milk or ate affected dairy products are particularly at risk, the study says.

Some of the participants in the Chernobyl study lived as far as 90 miles from the disaster site, showing the risks of eating or drinking contaminated foods by people who were exposed to little or no radioactive iodine from the immediate fallout.

The study's release amid the crisis presented by Japan's damaged nuclear plants is a coincidence, the agency said. The release date had been scheduled weeks ago.

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