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Mortality among Military Participants at the 1957 PLUMBBOB Nuclear Weapons Test Series and on Leukemia among Participants at the SMOKY Test
  • Published Date:
    Jun 29 2016
  • Source:
    J Radiol Prot. 36(3):474-489
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  • Description:
    Health effects following low doses of ionizing radiation are uncertain. Military veterans at the Nevada test site (NTS) during the SMOKY atmospheric nuclear weapons test in 1957 were reported to be at increased risk for leukemia in 1979, but this increase was not evaluated with respect to radiation dose. The SMOKY test was one of 30 tests in 1957 within the PLUMBBOB test series. These early studies led to public laws where atomic veterans could qualify for compensation for presumptive radiogenic diseases. A retrospective cohort study was conducted of 12219 veterans at the PLUMBBOB test series, including 3020 at the SMOKY nuclear test. Mortality follow-up was through 2010 and observed causes of death were compared with expected causes based on general population rates. Radiation dose to red bone marrow was based on individual dose reconstructions, and Cox proportional hazards models were used to evaluate dose response for all leukemias other than chronic lymphocytic leukemia (non-CLL leukemia). Vital status was determined for 95.3% of the 12 219 veterans. The dose to red bone marrow was low (mean 3.2 mGy, maximum 500 mGy). Military participants at the PLUMBBOB nuclear test series remained relatively healthy after 53 years and died at a lower rate than the general population. In contrast, and in comparison with national rates, the SMOKY participants showed significant increases in all causes of death, respiratory cancer, leukemia, nephritis and nephrosis, and accidents, possibly related in part to lifestyle factors common to enlisted men who made up 81% of the SMOKY cohort. Compared with national rates, a statistically significant excess of non-CLL leukemia was observed among SMOKY participants (Standardized Mortality Ratio  =  1.89, 95% 1.24-2.75, n  =  27) but not among PLUMBBOB participants after excluding SMOKY (SMR  =  0.87, 95% 0.64-1.51, n  =  47). Leukemia risk, initially reported to be significantly increased among SMOKY participants, remained elevated, but this risk diminished over time. Despite an intense dose reconstruction, the risk for leukemia was not found to increase with increasing levels of radiation dose to the red bone marrow. Based on a linear model, the estimated excess relative risk per mGy is  -0.05 (95% CI -0.14, 0.04). An explanation for the observed excess of leukemia remains unresolved but conceivably could be related to chance due to small numbers, subtle biases in the study design and/or high tobacco use among enlisted men. Larger studies should elucidate further the possible relationship between fallout radiation, leukemia and cancer among atomic veterans.

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