A recent study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) analyzed the effects of benzene exposure at Hanford in Washington as well as at other nuclear sites. Researchers reportedly found that nuclear defense site workers who are exposed to low levels of radiation have an increased risk of dying from leukemia later on in life.
The study took a detailed look at the doses of radiation that the average worker at a nuclear site might be exposed over a lifetime of work. According to the NIOSH previous studies have looked at the link between exposure and leukemia and found a relationship between the fatal cancer and high levels of radiation exposure. In the U.S., 71 out of 10,000 men are expected to die from leukemia. For workers exposed to three rem of radiation in their places of work, the risk of dying from leukemia increased to 77 men out of 10,000.
“We emphasize that if workers are exposed to three rem the risk is very low,” explains Mary Schubauer-Berigan, a NIOSH epidemiologist.
Details of Leukemia Research
Researchers looked at workers who are exposed to more than one rem of radiation. These exposed workers chances of dying from leukemia were then compared to workers exposed to less than one rem. The Department of Energy limits supposedly limits radiation exposure to 5 rem per year; however, during practice tests radiation exposure is controlled to less than 0.5 rem per year.
The study looked specifically at five federal sites: Hanford, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.