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Radiation Risks to Health

Radiation Risks to Health

The thought of radiation exposure is the stuff nightmares, and justifiably so. With the release of radiation from the disaster-stricken nuclear complex in Japan, people the globe over have increased fear that a potential plume of radioactivity may find them–especially those on the U.S. west coast. To help Americans understand their radiation-related health risks, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE), the American Thyroid Association (ATA), The Endocrine Society and the Society of Nuclear Medicine (SNM) issued a joint statement of the radiation risks to health.

The statement describes that the main component to be concerned about  is radioactive iodine including iodine-131.This presents a special risk to health because exposure of the thyroid to high levels may lead to development of thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer years later.

As we have been hearing in the news, radioactive iodine uptake to the thyroid can be blocked by taking potassium iodide (KI) pills. But the joint statement cautions that “KI should not be taken unless there is a clear risk of exposure to high levels of radioactive iodine. While some radiation may be detected in the United States as a result of the nuclear reactor accident in Japan, current estimates indicate radiation levels will not be harmful to the thyroid gland or general health.” If radiation levels were to rise to significant levels, KI should only be taken as directed by physicians or public health authorities until the risk for significant exposure dissipates.

The statement discourages individuals needlessly purchasing or hoarding of KI in the United States. Since there is not a radiation emergency in the United States or its territories, the statement does not support the ingestion of KI prophylaxis at this time. KI can cause allergic reactions, skin rashes, salivary gland inflammation, hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism in a small percentage of people.

AACE, ATA, The Endocrine Society and SNM will continue to monitor potential risks to health from this accident and will issue amended advisories as warranted.

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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11:53AM PDT on May 29, 2012

Humans have evolved to withstand background radiation. It causes death of cells but humans
can recover as long as the dosage is minimal. The bombing of the Japanese during WW2 proves exactly what doses the human body can withstand. The survivors are still being studied.

7:55AM PDT on May 29, 2012

@Jamie C. Well considering, no one can do anything about background radiation which is due to natural radioactive decay, what is the point?

5:37AM PDT on May 29, 2012


5:37AM PDT on May 29, 2012

There is no safe level of radiation and even background radiation increases your risk of cancer.

8:45AM PDT on Apr 27, 2012

good to know

2:41PM PDT on Oct 27, 2011

We need to remember the world is not a lab but has many factor effecting all things going on. The short sighted capping...rather lack thereof,of the reactor in japan has had great effect on the weather as the Earth seeks balance. We need to seek balance not profits.

9:43PM PDT on May 13, 2011


8:17AM PDT on Apr 5, 2011


8:02AM PDT on Mar 23, 2011

thanks for sharing

6:51AM PDT on Mar 23, 2011

At the moment I am not concerned yet by the Japones accident apart from naturally those who are directly affected, I am concerned about mobile phones & all the other radio waves floating around, just seems so unnatural & we are not adjusted to live with these levels & get saturated whether we like it or not.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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people are talking

Terrible thing for the baby's parents to have to go through. I hope the baby was okay.

Excellent article. Thank you.

great to hear! thanks

Thanks for sharing.


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