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Global Environmental & Occupational Health

BELARUS: In-Utero Exposure to Chornobyl Radiation

Through our ITREOH program, we are continuing a cohort morbidity study of children with in utero exposure to Chornobyl radiation in Belarus and Russia. The Principal Investigator of this study is Dr. Irina Dardynskaia, who began this work in 1988 in Belarus. This study follows 1620 children exposed in utero and born between April 26, 1986, and December 31, 1987. During pregnancy, mothers of these children lived in Belarus territories with varying degrees of radionuclide contamination. The main goal of this study is to assess the clinical and functional health consequences of in utero radiation exposure in different dose ranges, with particular attention to trends in sexual and psychological growth and development, immune related disorders and their relationship to estimated doses received from radioiodine and radiocesium.

Our ITREOH program supported the collaborative efforts between U.S. and Belarussian scientists in:

  1. establishment of a computer database the 1620 participants;
  2. updating health examination data through 2,000;
  3. confirmation of data accuracy through validation of a sample; and
  4. in utero dose reconstruction for a sample of 185 full-term children.

The methodology for in utero dose reconstruction was developed through collaborative efforts between scientists of three countries ( Belarus, Russia and US). The results on utero dose reconstruction are presented in a draft of our paper submitted to Radiation Research13. Three Visiting Scientists were trained in principles of radiation risk assessment, and three scientists participated in in-country training on in utero dose reconstruction.

photo - caption follows
Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant

The Belarussian physicians assigned to special "Chornobyl" teams continue to collect data from annual mandatory examinations of these children using the same surveillance protocol. The hard copy files of the annual examination results of these children from 1988 to 1991 and data obtained in part on follow-up examination from 1992-1997 are currently being analyzed at UIC. These children are now 15 years of age. An additional and more intensive clinical and endocrinologic examination during this pubertal period will yield valuable information on effects of in utero irradiation at low to medium doses on the growth, development, and health of the exposed children.

The study participants included 1260 children who were identified who were born between April 26, 1986, and December 31, 1987 (Study Groups 1 and 2) from lists of children undergoing mandatory surveillance in the Minsk Chernobyl Dispensary. During pregnancy mothers of these children lived in highly contaminated territories in several raions of three Belarussian Oblasts, Gomel, Mogilev, and Brest. The locations of these regions are shown in Figure 1. The mothers of 670 children (Study Group 1) were exposed both to radiocesiums and radioiodines. The mothers of 590 children (Study Group 2) were exposed mainly to radiocesiums. The Control Group (Study Group 3) consists of 360 children born between April 26, 1986, and December 31, 1987, to mothers living throughout pregnancy in the uncontaminated Braslav Raion of Vitebsk Oblast. These control children were randomly selected from medical records of family-practice clinics and were matched to Study Groups 1 and 2 by age and sex. Groups 1, 2, and 3 underwent similar protocol-based examinations which included child's growth and development data, neurological and ophthalmologic exams; thyroid-function tests; clinical, and in some cases, ultrasound examination of the thyroid; and complete blood counts. In utero dose reconstruction has been completed on a sample of 185 children from this cohort. Data, obtained from the dose reconstruction show that more than one fourth of them received doses higher than 100 mGy from 131I.