Radiation Risk Looms for Pregnant Women in Japan

Health & Wellness on 03.16.11
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Photo: conbon via flickr Creative Commons (CC BY 2.0).

According to a post in the Economix blog at the New York Times, one Columbia University economist warns that the Japanese government may not be doing enough to protect expecting mothers in Japan from radiation exposure after the devastating March 11 earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the northeast region of the country. As of Tuesday night, reactors number 3 and 4 have been damaged, and a containment vessel in a second reactor unit "may have ruptured and appeared to be releasing radioactive steam," according to the Times

The economist, Douglas Almond, who has studied fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, explained via e-mail to the Times:

The fetus may be particularly sensitive to low doses of ionizing radiation, a susceptibility that current public health responses in Japan seem to have overlooked.

Almond's studies focus on low-level radiation from the Chernobyl fallout in Sweden, which was largely believed -- and confirmed -- to be inconsequential, except for one population sector:

...[C]hildren in utero at the time of the accident. Swedish students who were in utero during the accident experienced significantly lower cognitive function, as reflected in performance on standardized tests in middle school, especially those tests that correspond best to IQ.

Current daily levels of radiation are 160 times the safe exposure for one person for a year, according to Anderson Cooper 360. The bottom line, notes Almond, is that areas of concern where it comes to radiation exposure -- especially for pregnant women -- "can be much farther from the nuclear plants than many people realize." 


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