[ RadSafe ] When Radiation Isn’t the Real Risk

jjshonka at shonka.com jjshonka at shonka.com
Wed Sep 23 10:14:43 CDT 2015

Andy wrote “I suppose if you really want to get into the weeds then you'd also have to consider someone's age, health history, and genetic susceptibility to radiation. “

As a parallel to radiation, consider beryllium.  When chronic beryllium disease (CBD) was discovered in the 1940’s, exposure limits were established.  Roughly, those limits have been substantially reduced each decade since then (some times by a factor of 10) as CBD continued to be observed in some workers.  I understand that current thinking is that a few percent (less than 4%) of workers are highly susceptible to CBD, perhaps due to a genetic predisposition.  96% of the population is not.  If beryllium caused many different diseases as is the case for radiation (each cancer is a different disease), this link would likely not have been found as easily.  

Andy asked whether we need to consider “age, health history, and genetic susceptibility” for radiation and I suggest that same issue occurs for other risks such as beryllium.  If we did consider genetic risk for beryllium by testing workers for genetic susceptibility, we could avoid most controls and costs of measurement of workplace and effluent concentration.  Can we deny workers who are susceptible the right to work in the beryllium industry?  

I think we may, in this century, understand genetic risks for radiation and will eventually provide career counselling to workers to avoid industries for which their risk might be greater for a variety of subtle hazards.  However, I was asking how does one regulate using a non-LNT assumption.  I agree with Andy’s suggestion that one might have to get into the weeds to do this correctly.  Is there a model for regulating a non-linear hazard?  

Joseph J. Shonka, Ph.D.
Shonka Research Associates, Inc.
119 Ridgemore Circle

Toccoa, GA 30577

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