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October 1, 1999

Public service provides first individual dose estimates for people exposed to Hanford radiation

OLYMPIA, WA, This week, a three-state public service began mailing the first individual radiation dose estimates ever to be provided to people who were exposed off-site from a nuclear weapons plant—in this case, to radioactive iodine 131 from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state between 1944 and 1957.

To date, more than 10,000 people have requested their individual dose estimate by contacting the Hanford Individual Dose Assessment (IDA) Project and providing information about where they lived and what they remember about their diet 40 to 50 years ago. The state health agencies of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon jointly operate the service in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the federal agency that funds the project.

Since funding for the Hanford IDA Project is expected to end March 28, 2000 and there is no assurance that the program will be refunded, a waiting list has been established for people who are now completing and returning their residence history form. To request a residence history form, people should call the toll-free message line at 1-800-545-5581.

"It is possible, but not guaranteed, that the project will be able to provide dose estimates for those who have already sent in a form plus those on the waiting list," said John Erickson, the project’s Washington state representative. "Between now and March 28, 2000 the project must focus on processing information and calculating doses for the people who have already started the process," he noted.

A citizen member of the project’s advisory committee stressed the importance of getting dose estimates to people. "I appreciate the time and care the three state health agencies have taken in developing this unique public service," said Trisha Pritikin of Berkeley, Calif., who was born and raised near Hanford during the years of iodine 131 releases. "I think these individual iodine 131 dose estimates from Hanford are an important first step in providing information to people about their overall radiation exposures from Hanford and other nuclear weapons facilities."

Erickson noted that people were exposed mainly by drinking milk from cows or goats that had eaten pasture contaminated with iodine 131, but also by breathing contaminated air and eating fresh foods that were contaminated. The thyroid gland is the main part of the body affected by iodine 131.

People who receive a Hanford IDA Project dose estimate need to decide for themselves whether to see a health care provider. Individuals who have a normal screening evaluation for thyroid disease should be re-screened as indicated by their health care provider, according to the Hanford Thyroid Disease Study’s Recommended Guidelines for Evaluation of Thyroid Disease.

The individual dose estimates are being calculated using the science of the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction (HEDR) Project. According to HEDR, the highest releases of iodine 131 occurred between December 26, 1944 and December 31, 1957.

In 1943, the U.S. government built the Hanford site in southeastern Washington state to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. Radioactive iodine 131, a byproduct of plutonium production, was released from Hanford into the air, water and soil. As the wind carried iodine 131 from Hanford, some fell to the ground and onto pastures, crops and gardens.

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