FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Women & Children First! (to be Harmed by Radiation)

“Woman and children first” is redefined in the nuclear age, now that science has shown that they are far more susceptible to the ravages of radiation than men and boys.

The nuclear power and weapons industry, people living near reactors, practitioners of nuclear medicine and dentistry, and the nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed Navy and Air Force all have a vested interest in radiation protection. Likewise the irradiation industry that zaps food, spices, medical instruments and merchandise with Cobaolt-60, construction firms that use X-ray machines to check welds, smoke detector manufacturers that place Americium-241 inside each unit, and nuclear waste brokers, haulers and dumpers who come in close proximity to radiation every day.

Yet the standard still used for “allowable” and “legal” radiation doses is a chauvinistic and alarmingly dangerous method of calculating risk.

The standard is called “reference man.” Created by the International Commission on Radiological Protection in 1975,  it defines humanity as a 5-foot-7-inch, 154-pound “Caucasian” male, 20-to-30 years old, who is “Western European or North American in habitat and custom.” Of course, this set represents neither the most vulnerable population nor the average person.

An authoritative report from the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER) — the influential scientific watchdog group in Takoma Park, Maryland — declares that the use of Reference Man is “scientifically inappropriate because the vast majority of people, including women and children, fall outside the definition” and “does not protect those most at risk” from radiation. As Matt Wald reported in the New York Times: “Experts agree that women face a risk about 50% higher than the Reference Man from the same amount of radioactive material, while the risk for children is several-fold higher.”

ionizing_radiation

IEER President Arjun Makhijani says “Reference Man … is used in, among others, some drinking water regulations, the standard computer program guiding the cleanup of radioactively-contaminated sites and guidance and compliance documents of the EPA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Department of Energy.” 

 

What’s Wrong with the Old Risk Model? 

IEER’s main findings shatter the foundations that underlie the use of radioactive materials in science, medicine, construction, the irradiation of food and equipment, the military and the uranium fuel cycle for nuclear power production. IEER’s findings are worth outlining in some detail:

1. The use of Reference Man in radiation protection regulations and guidelines, including those designed to protect the general public, is pervasive. This is scientifically inappropriate because the vast majority of people, including women and children, fall outside the definition. In general, it does not protect those most at risk, who are often women and children.

2. Radiation protection regulations are generally given in terms of limits on radiation dose “per year,” or in terms of maximum allowable concentrations of radionuclides in the environment. The use of Reference Man in radiation dose calculations underestimates doses to children in a large number of situations — and to women in many situations. The underestimation of dose results in an underestimation of cancer risk.

3. Overall, children have a higher risk of cancer for a given radiation dose. This higher risk per unit of radiation dose compounds the problem of underestimation of dose.

4. The regulations and guidelines that rely mainly on Reference Man include the NRC’s radiation protection regulations in the workplace and for the general public (specified in 10 CFR 20, EPA Federal Guidance Reports 11 and 12, and DOE Order 5400.5). The default values in the official computer program used to estimate allowable residual radioactivity also use Reference Man. “He” is also used to assess compliance with the Clean Air Act.

5. The Maximum Contaminant Levels for transuranic radionuclides [isotopes like plutonium that are heavier than uranium] in drinking water rely on Reference Man.

6. The [most recent] report on low-level ionizing radiation of the National Academy of Sciences, known as the BEIR VII report, concluded that women are at considerably greater risk of dying from cancer from the same radiation dose — and also at greater risk of getting cancer per unit of radiation dose — compared to an adult male.

7. Fetal exposure is only taken into account in radiation-controlled workplaces in those cases where a woman declares her pregnancy. The standards in effect are obsolete by a factor of five or more.

8. The failure to estimate doses to children and cancer risks to children, when they are in excess of doses and risks received by adults, would appear to be in violation of President Bill Clinton’s 1997 Executive Order on children, which was reaffirmed by George W. Bush, with some changes, in 2003.

Take action: IEER and other involved in the campaign “Healthy from the Start” are working to end the use of Reference Man. For more info’, visit: www.healthyfromthestart.org.

John LaForge works for Nukewatch, the nuclear watchdog group in Wisconsin. 

More articles by:

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

September 25, 2018
Kenneth Surin
Fact-Finding Labour’s “Anti-Semitism” Crisis
Charles Pierson
Destroying Yemen as Humanely as Possible
James Rothenberg
Why Not Socialism?
Patrick Cockburn
How Putin Came Out on Top in Syria
John Grant
“Awesome Uncontrollable Male Passion” Meets Its Match
Guy Horton
Burma: Complicity With Evil?
Steve Stallone
Jujitsu Comms
William Blum
Bombing Libya: the Origins of Europe’s Immigration Crisis
John Feffer
There’s a New Crash Coming
Martha Pskowski
“The Emergency Isn’t Over”: the Homeless Commemorate a Year Since the Mexico City Earthquake
Fred Baumgarten
Ten Ways of Looking at Civility
Dean Baker
The Great Financial Crisis: Bernanke and the Bubble
Binoy Kampmark
Parasitic and Irrelevant: The University Vice Chancellor
September 24, 2018
Jonathan Cook
Hiding in Plain Sight: Why We Cannot See the System Destroying Us
Gary Leupp
All the Good News (Ignored by the Trump-Obsessed Media)
Robert Fisk
I Don’t See How a Palestinian State Can Ever Happen
Barry Brown
Pot as Political Speech
Lara Merling
Puerto Rico’s Colonial Legacy and Its Continuing Economic Troubles
Patrick Cockburn
Iraq’s Prime Ministers Come and Go, But the Stalemate Remains
William Blum
The New Iraq WMD: Russian Interference in US Elections
Julian Vigo
The UK’s Snoopers’ Charter Has Been Dealt a Serious Blow
Joseph Matten
Why Did Global Economic Performance Deteriorate in the 1970s?
Zhivko Illeieff
The Millennial Label: Distinguishing Facts from Fiction
Thomas Hon Wing Polin – Gerry Brown
Xinjiang : The New Great Game
Binoy Kampmark
Casting Kavanaugh: The Trump Supreme Court Drama
Max Wilbert
Blue Angels: the Naked Face of Empire
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will There Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail