From Reuters Via Medscape
GENEVA (Reuters) Mar 17 - In the wake of
Japan's nuclear crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued fresh
guidelines on how to minimize exposure to radiation that can cause
cancers, especially in children and young adults.
The United Nations agency said measures taken by
Japan so far meet its public health recommendations, including
evacuating people within 20 km of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power
plant and asking those within 30 km to stay indoors.
There was no indication of food safety risks due
to imports of food products from Japan. It was also unlikely food
production or harvesting in the affected area was taking place, but it
said crops and livestock in the area should be protected.
Following is a list of the main WHO recommendations:
- The main radionuclides released in a nuclear
power plant accident are radioactive cesium and radioactive iodine.
"Members of the public may be exposed directly to such radionuclides in
the suspended air or if food and drink are contaminated by such
materials," the WHO said.
- If radioactive iodine is inhaled or swallowed,
it will concentrate in the thyroid and increase the risk of thyroid
cancer. This risk can be lowered by taking potassium iodide pills which
saturate the thyroid gland and help prevent the uptake of the
radioactive material. "When given before or shortly after exposure, this
step can reduce the risk of cancer in the long term," it said. National
authorities are best placed to determine if it is warranted to take the
- If a dose of radiation exceeds a certain
threshold level, then it can produce skin redness, hair loss, radiation
burns and acute radiation syndrome. Due to their work, rescuers and
nuclear power plant workers may be exposed to higher radiation doses
than the general population.
- Exposure to radiation can increase the risk of
cancer. Among the survivors in Japan of U.S. atomic bombs dropped in
August 1945, the risk of leukemia increased a few years after radiation
exposure, while the risks of other cancers increased more than 10 years
after the exposure.
- The risk of thyroid cancer following radiation exposure is higher in children and young adults.
- If warranted, steps such as restricting the
consumption of vegetables and dairy products produced in the vicinity of
the power plant can also reduce exposure.
- "If you are coming indoors after radiation
exposure, undress in the doorway to avoid further contamination in your
home or shelter. Remove clothing and shoes and place them in a plastic
bag. Seal the bag and place it in a safe location, away from living
areas, children, and pets."
- "Shower or bathe with warm, not scalding hot,
water and soap. Notify authorities that you may have contaminated
clothing and personal belongings to be handled appropriately and
disposed of according to accepted national procedures," the WHO said.
- "If you are advised to stay indoors, you should
find the safest room in your house or office building that has no
windows or doors. Ventilation systems, such as heating and cooling
systems, should be shut down," the agency said.
- Foods can be contaminated with radioactive
materials as a result of a nuclear or radiological emergency. "The
surface of foods like fruits and vegetables or animal feed can become
radioactive by deposit of radioactive materials falling on it from the
air or through rain water."
- Over time, radioactivity can also build up
within food, as radionuclides are transferred through soil into crops or
animals or into rivers, lakes and the sea where fish and shellfish
could take up the radionuclides.
- "Radioactivity cannot contaminate food that is
packaged; for example, tinned or plastic-wrapped food is protected from
radioactivity as long as the food is sealed," the WHO said.
- In the early stages of an emergency, and if it
is safe to do so, vegetables and animal fodder can be protected with
plastic sheets or tarpaulins.
- "Bring livestock in from pasture; move animals into a shed or barn.
- Harvest any ripe crops and place under cover," it said.
- Avoid consumption of locally produced milk or
vegetables, avoid slaughtering animals and avoid fishing, hunting or
gathering mushrooms or other forest foods.