Lydia Zablotska, MD, PhD, associate professor of Epidemiology, presented her research on the health effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster at the United Nations in New York on April 26.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the UN invited scientists, politicians, and NGO leaders to discuss lessons learned from the accident. The Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations and World Information Transfer, Inc. organized the daylong conference.
Zablotska has been studying the health effects of radiation released at Chernobyl for nearly 20 years. With the National Cancer Institute and scientists from Ukraine and Belarus, she has been conducting several studies, including two cohorts of more than 25,000 people in Ukraine and Belarus who were children and adolescents at the time of the accident on April 26, 1986. Study participants from both cohorts have had thyroid radiation doses measured shortly after the accident, providing a unique opportunity to learn about the effects of radiation exposure on the thyroid gland.
A third study looks at adults who were involved in cleanup efforts during from 1986 to 1991 and received significant doses of radiation.
Zablotska directed a study which indicates that children and adolescents who were under the age of 18 years at the time of the accident have significantly increased risk of thyroid diseases, especially of thyroid cancer and benign thyroid follicular adenoma. Those who were between 2 and 5 years of age at the time of the accident had the highest risks, most likely due to consumption of cow’s milk contaminated with radioiodine (131I) released into the atmosphere after the accident.
The research also shows that the approximately 580,000 men who worked on cleanup efforts after the disaster could be at increased risks of leukemia, especially as they age, Zablotska told the UN conference audience.
“We have also learned that mental health disorders were the most significant public health consequence of the accident in the three most contaminated countries of Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian Federation,” Zablotska said. “Unfortunately, few scientific studies were conducted and no longitudinal studies. Our hope is that those studying the health effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident will be able to determine the radiation dose-response for mental health effects.”
Zablotska, a native of Ukraine, began working on these studies as a graduate student in 1997 and became a Principal Investigator in 2006.. You can view her presentation at the UN here.