Objectives: Until recently, enrichment of uranium for civil and military purposes in France was carried out by gaseous diffusion using rapidly soluble uranium compounds. We analysed the relationship between exposure to soluble uranium compounds and exposure to external γ-radiation and mortality in a cohort of 4688 French uranium enrichment workers who were employed between 1964 and 2006.
Methods: Data on individual annual exposure to radiological and non-radiological hazards were collected for workers of the AREVA NC, CEA and Eurodif uranium enrichment plants from job-exposure matrixes and external dosimetry records, differentiating between natural, enriched and depleted uranium. Cause-specific mortality was compared with the French general population via standardised mortality ratios (SMR), and was analysed via Poisson regression using log-linear and linear excess relative risk models.
Results: Over the period of follow-up, 131 161 person-years at risk were accrued and 21% of the subjects had died. A strong healthy worker effect was observed: all causes SMR=0.69, 95% CI 0.65 to 0.74. SMR for pleural cancer was significantly increased (2.3, 95% CI 1.06 to 4.4), but was only based on nine cases. Internal uranium and external γ-radiation exposures were not significantly associated with any cause of mortality.
Conclusions: This is the first study of French uranium enrichment workers. Although limited in statistical power, further follow-up of this cohort, estimation of internal uranium doses and pooling with similar cohorts should elucidate potential risks associated with exposure to soluble uranium compounds.
Keywords: cohort study; enrichment; mortality; solubility; uranium.
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