Introduction: There has been relatively little attention paid to the mid- and long-term effects of large-scale disasters, particularly their effects on children and young people. At the present time, the impact of the Chernobyl catastrophe on the daily lives of the affected population may include one of strong psychological stress due to uncertainty about ultimate health outcomes. Persons in the Chernobyl region in specific areas of low contamination may be affected similarly. This investigation assesses radiation concerns and attitudes about health and government information, nine years after the disaster, in a group of adults and adolescents residing in a relatively uncontaminated village in the Chernobyl area.
Methods: Questionnaires were administered to 94 adults and 50 adolescents. Items assessed beliefs about extent of radiation exposure, health concerns regarding oneself and family members, past and current preoccupation about the disaster, and trust in the accuracy of government information about health effects.
Results: Considerable uncertainty was demonstrated in both adults and adolescents about the extent of their and their families exposure to radiation. Marked distrust of past and current government information about health effects was evident. A large proportion of subjects reported that they still thought frequently about the Chernobyl accident. They worried about health problems related to radiation exposure whenever they or their family members exhibited physical symptoms or complaints, and they urged family members to go to a medical clinic for evaluation to assess these symptoms.
Conclusions: The extent of long-term concerns about the personal and family health effects of the Chernobyl disaster in this population residing in a relatively uncontaminated village is striking: the psychological impact on adolescents is considerable. The stress generated is maintained by the realistic uncertainty about the ultimate health consequences to the overall population as a result of radiation exposure and distrust in government information about contamination levels in this particular village. The level of stress and its effects on physical and mental health may increase over time if there is a rise in morbidity in the area. The continuing health needs of the extremely large population affected by the Chernobyl disaster need to be addressed.