The Million Person Study, whence it came and why

Int J Radiat Biol. 2019 Mar 4;1-14. doi: 10.1080/09553002.2019.1589015. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: The study of low dose and low-dose rate exposure is of immeasurable value in understanding the possible range of health effects from prolonged exposures to radiation. The Million Person Study (MPS) of low-dose health effects was designed to evaluate radiation risks among healthy American workers and veterans who are more representative of today's populations than are the Japanese atomic bomb survivors exposed briefly to high-dose radiation in 1945. A million persons were needed for statistical reasons to evaluate low-dose and dose-rate effects, rare cancers, intakes of radioactive elements, and differences in risks between women and men.

Methods and materials: The MPS consists of five categories of workers and veterans exposed to radiation from 1939 to the present. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Health and Mortality study began over 40 years ago and is the source of ∼360,000 workers. Over 25 years ago, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) collaborated with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to effectively create a cohort of nuclear power plant workers (∼150,000) and industrial radiographers (∼130,000). For over 30 years, the Department of Defense (DoD) collected data on aboveground nuclear weapons test participants (∼115,000). At the request of NCI in 1978, Landauer, Inc., (Glenwood, IL) saved their dosimetry databases which became the source of a cohort of ∼250,000 medical and other workers.

Results: Overall, 29 individual cohorts comprise the MPS of which 21 have been or are under active study (∼810,000 persons). The remaining eight cohorts (∼190,000 persons) will be studied as resources become available. The MPS is a national effort with critical support from the NRC, DOE, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), DoD, NCI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Landauer, Inc., and national laboratories.

Conclusions: The MPS is designed to address the major unanswered question in radiation risk understanding: What is the level of health effects when exposure is gradual over time and not delivered briefly. The MPS will provide scientific understandings of prolonged exposure which will improve guidelines to protect workers and the public; improve compensation schemes for workers, veterans and the public; provide guidance for policy and decision makers; and provide evidence for or against the continued use of the linear nonthreshold dose-response model in radiation protection.

Keywords: Million Person (Worker) Study; cancer; cognition; heart; low-dose rate effects; radiation epidemiology.