15. Consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe for public health and the environment 23 years later

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Nov;1181:318-26. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04841.x.


More than 50% of Chernobyl's radionuclides were dispersed outside of Belarus, Ukraine, and European Russia and caused fallout as far away as North America. In 1986 nearly 400 million people lived in areas radioactively contaminated at a level higher than 4 kBq/m(2) and nearly 5 million individuals are still being exposed to dangerous contamination. The increase in morbidity, premature aging, and mutations is seen in all the contaminated territories that have been studied. The increase in the rates of total mortality for the first 17 years in European Russia was up to 3.75% and in Ukraine it was up to 4.0%. Levels of internal irradiation are increasing owing to plants absorbing and recycling Cs-137, Sr-90, Pu, and Am. During recent years, where internal levels of Cs-137 have exceeded 1 mSv/year, which is considered "safe," it must be lowered to 50 Bq/kg in children and to 75 Bq/kg in adults. Useful practices to accomplish this include applying mineral fertilizers on agricultural lands, K and organosoluble lignin on forestlands, and regular individual consumption of natural pectin enterosorbents. Extensive international help is needed to provide radiation protection for children, especially in Belarus, where over the next 25 to 30 years radionuclides will continue to contaminate plants through the root layers in the soil. Irradiated populations of plants and animals exhibit a variety of morphological deformities and have significantly higher levels of mutations that were rare prior to 1986. The Chernobyl zone is a "black hole": some species may persist there only via immigration from uncontaminated areas.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Accident*
  • Humans
  • Radiation Injuries
  • Radiation Monitoring*