FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
Thomas Knapp
Pork is Not the Problem
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming and Solar Minimum: a Response to Renee Parsons
Jill Richardson
Straight People Don’t Need a Parade
B. R. Gowani
The Indian Subcontinent’s Third Partition
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: The Black Body in LA
Jonah Raskin
‘69 and All That Weird Shit
Michael Doliner
My Surprise Party
Stephen Cooper
The Fullness of Half Pint
Charles R. Larson
Review: Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”
David Yearsley
Sword and Sheath Songs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail