Radiation and mortality of workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory: positive associations for doses received at older ages

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Aug;107(8):649-56. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107649.


We examined associations between low-level exposure to ionizing radiation and mortality among 14,095 workers hired at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory between 1943 and 1972. Workers at the facility were individually monitored for external exposure to ionizing radiation and have been followed through 1990 to ascertain cause of death information. Positive associations were observed between low-level exposure to external ionizing radiation and mortality. These associations were larger for doses received after 45 years of age, larger under longer lag assumptions, and primarily due to cancer causes of death. All cancer mortality was estimated to increase 4.98% [standard error (SE) = 1.5] per 10-mSv cumulative dose received after age 45 under a 10-year lag, and 7.31% (SE = 2.2) per 10-mSv cumulative dose received after age 45 under a 20-year lag. Associations between radiation dose and lung cancer were of similar magnitude to associations between radiation dose and all cancers except lung cancer. Nonmalignant respiratory disease exhibited a positive association with cumulative radiation dose received after age 45, whereas ischemic heart disease exhibited no association with radiation dose. These findings suggest increases in cancer mortality associated with low-level external exposure to ionizing radiation and potentially greater sensitivity to the carcinogenic effects of ionizing radiation with older ages at exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cause of Death
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laboratories
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Lung Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Power Plants
  • Radiation Injuries / epidemiology*
  • Radiation, Ionizing
  • Tennessee / epidemiology