Mental health and alcohol problems among Estonian cleanup workers 24 years after the Chernobyl accident

Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2015 Nov;50(11):1753-60. doi: 10.1007/s00127-015-1102-6. Epub 2015 Aug 11.


Purpose: To study the long-term mental health consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident among cleanup workers from Estonia.

Methods: In 2010, 614 Estonian Chernobyl cleanup workers and 706 geographically and age-matched population-based controls completed a mail survey that included self-rated health, the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL), alcohol symptoms (AUDIT), and scales measuring depressive, anxiety, agoraphobia, fatigue, insomnia, and somatization symptoms. Respondents were dichotomized into high (top quartile) and low symptom groups on each measure.

Results: Logistic regression analysis detected significant differences between cleanup workers and controls on all measures even after adjustment for ethnicity, education, marital status, and employment status. The strongest difference was found for somatization, with cleanup workers being three times more likely than controls to score in the top quartile (OR = 3.28, 95% CI 2.39-4.52), whereas for alcohol problems the difference was half as large (OR = 1.52, 95% CI 1.16-1.99). Among cleanup workers, arrival at Chernobyl in 1986 (vs. later) was associated with sleep problems, somatization, and symptoms of agoraphobia.

Conclusion: The toll of cleanup work was evident 24 years after the Chernobyl accident among Estonian cleanup workers indicating the need for focused mental health interventions.

Keywords: Alcohol problems; Chernobyl nuclear accident; Cleanup workers; Estonia; Mental health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chernobyl Nuclear Accident*
  • Estonia / epidemiology
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / epidemiology*