Study finds low-level radiation less harmful than other risks

Research shows risks from low-level radiation exposure were small compared to smoking, obesity and air pollution.

By Amy Wallace

Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Researchers at the University of Oxford have found that low-level radiation exposure may be less harmful to human health compared to other lifestyle risks.

The study, published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, showed that the overall risk to human health from low-level radiation exposure is small, especially when compared with general risks such as obesity, smoking and air pollution.


'We know a great deal about the health risks from radiation thanks to exceptionally careful studies of groups of people exposed to different levels from nuclear bombs or accidents, medical exposure of patients, naturally occurring sources (such as radon), and workers in the nuclear industry and medicine," Professor Angela McLean, co-director at the Oxford Martin Program on Collective Responsibilty for Infectious Disease, said in a press release. "From these studies it is clear that moderate and high doses of radiation increase the risk of developing some types of cancer.'

Much is known about the adverse health effects of mid- to high-level radiation exposure on human health, but little was known about how low-level radiation exposure impacts health.

The findings lead researchers from the Oxford Martin School at the University of Oxford to better inform policy decisions and define where gaps in knowledge remain.


"Despite the depth of our knowledge, there are still many unknowns," McLean said. "Even the best designed epidemiological study finds it hard to distinguish between no extra risk and a small additional risk at low levels of exposure and we have to make some important assumptions here, particularly for the purposes of radiation protection. For example, no human study has conclusively shown an increase in hereditary disease in the children of irradiated parents, but radiation protection calculations assume some risk is present because of evidence from large animal experiments.

"There is also a great deal of work being undertaken to investigate the biological basis of the damage from radiation to DNA and cells, but it is still not clear precisely the steps by which a dose of radiation might lead to cancer, sometimes decades later."

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