Charting the effects of fall-out

Susan de Muth
Tuesday 30 March 1993 23:02

BELARUS was the most severely affected republic after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, receiving 70 per cent of the fall-out. An estimated 2.2 million people are still living on contaminated land. Researchers estimate that one-fifth of the country's children have received about 100,000 times as much radiation as people normally encounter from background radiation.

Medical specialists visiting the area under the auspices of the World Health Organisation last year identified an 80-fold increase in the incidence of childhood thyroid cancer. At Minsk Haematological Hospital admissions of children with leukaemia had trebled when Galina made her film in 1989. Against a 70 to 80 per cent recovery rate among children with leukaemia in the United States and Britain, 15 per cent survive in Minsk.

The incidence of congenital malformation has also increased dramatically, according to a report by Dr Mary Brennan, a British health consultant who recently visited Belarus.

Assessments of the impact of the accident are diverse. A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last year stated that 'no health disorders could be attributed directly to radiation exposure'.

At the other extreme, a group of doctors in Grodno, eastern Belarus, led by Larissa Evetts, examined children from the most contaminated zones in 1991 and found that 66 per cent had dysfunctional thyroids, 35 per cent of boys aged 16 to 17 had no puberty development, 26 per cent had high levels of white blood cells, and 5 per cent were bald. Professor Evetts broadly concluded that 'not one is healthy'.

One area where experts agree, however, is in the identification of a new psychological condition. Radiophobia - a fear of radiation and the unknown effects of exposure - is widespread and could pose a second threat to health.

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