CWP Blog | CWP

Talk to Terrie: Scientists Call for Another Look on How Radiation Dose is Reconstructed

June 4, 2018

June 4, 2018

Created with Sketch. CWP

CWP Blog

For more than 20 years, I’ve slowly been able to grasp the rudimentary understanding of radiation and how it affects the human body. I have no background in radiation. I didn’t study it in school nor did I work at a facility. Most of my knowledge came from years of listening to or attending the Advisory Board on Radiation and Worker Health (ABRWH) meetings. If I didn’t understand an issue there were, and still are, many professionals in the field – workers, other advocates, and employees of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the board’s technical contractor, Sanford Cohen and Associates.

These individuals willingly and patiently explained the intricacies of the biological effects of radiation to me. I am forever grateful to them. Their tutoring was an immense help in relaying news from the board meetings to the stakeholders in simple layman’s terms. The most recent example was with a presentation during the ABRWH’s meeting on April 11, 2018.

ABRWH always provides the papers they will discuss before the meeting. I was alerted that one paper, The Development of Probability Distribution of DDREF for Solid Cancers, was an important paper because it would affect every dose reconstruction. This paper was developed by the Oak Ridge Center for Risk Analysis.

I pulled it up and began to read. I couldn’t understand it because it was so rich in science. I chalked it up to not being able to concentrate because I was involved in another issue. I was sure that once I listened to the actual presentation to the board that I would have a better understanding. That didn’t happen.

Portions of the paper were easily decipherable. For instance, the paper explains that DDREF stands for Dose and Dose-rate Effectiveness Factor and that it’s an “adjustment factor used in estimating cancer risks from exposure to” low dose radiation. I also recognized things like BIER VII report and the Mayak study. Other than that, I was completely at a loss in understanding the significance of this presentation.

Fortunately, after the presentation, two knowledgeable individuals were kind enough to explain how this would affect dose reconstruction.

NIOSH and the Department of Labor (DOL) use the Interactive RadioEpidemiological Program (IREP) to make compensation decisions based on the probability that radiation exposure caused a cancer. If the value they calculate is 50% or greater the claim is compensable.

IREP is based primarily on data obtained from over 80,000 Japanese survivors of the first atomic bomb explosions. However, it does not adequately, if at all, address the health effects of low level and chronic radiation exposure the workers experienced at the DOE sites.

According to Compensating for Cold War Cancers by Mark J. Parascandola,

While the Japanese at Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exposed to a single intense blast of radiation, the nuclear workers were exposed to smaller doses, sometimes over a period of decades, which, some experts say, could result in different biologic effects.

The authors of the paper recommend that ABRWH begin deliberations into whether IREP should be updated to include the health effects of chronic, low level radiation.

I have heard of claims being denied because the probability of cancer (POC) was, for example, 47%. What if the exposure to this extended low-level radiation was enough to increase the POC to 50% or more? It is my opinion that the board should add the discussion of the implications of this paper on dose reconstruction to their agenda for their August 2018 meeting.