Misuse of the LNT model portends spending in excess of $1 trillion in the United States alone for negligible health benefits just for government environmental cleanup programs, while truly significant public health protections are unfunded

Low Dose Radiation Revisited

By —— Bio and Archives--July 6, 2017

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Radiation is a natural process that is occurring at all times all around us. It is measured in units called millirems (mrems). The average person experiences a dose of about 620 mrems per year. International Standards consider exposure to as much as 5,000 mrems (5 rem) a year safe for those who work with and around radioactive material.

Most people assume all radioactive materials are dangerous, if not deadly. But a recent study on the radiation emitted by everyday objects highlights the fact that we interact with radioactive materials every day. 1

“We did this study understanding how much radiation comes off common household items to help place radiation readings in context—it puts things in perspective,” says Robert Hayes of North Carolina State University. “If people understand what trace levels of radiation mean, that understanding may help prevent panic.” (2)

Simply examining the average kitchen, one finds a cornucopia of items that emit enough radiation to detect with a Geiger counter

Simply examining the average kitchen, one finds a cornucopia of items that emit enough radiation to detect with a Geiger counter, in both man made consumer products and natural foods. Avocados, bananas, bricks, and smoke detectors all give off gamma radiation but at levels which are incredibly low. Are there Brazil nuts in your pantry? They’re the most radioactive food there is. Brazil nuts also contain potassium-40, the most prevalent radioactive element in the food we eat. Potassium packed bananas are well know for their radioactivity, so much so that a banana’s worth of activity is used as an informal measurement of radiation, called the Banana Equivalent Dose. One BED is equal to 0.01 millirem. A typical chest X-ray is somewhere around 200 to 1,000 BED. 2

For every 100 meter increase in altitude, the annual radiation dose increases by approximately 1.5 millirem. Therefore, Denver’s exposure is approximately twice that of Washington, D.C. People residing in Rocky Mountain states receive twice the natural background radiation as people in other parts of the country due to higher altitudes and large deposits of uranium. However, compared with states with lower natural background radiation, Rocky Mountain residents experience fewer age-adjusted overall cancer deaths and a lung cancer rate only two-thirds as high. 3

In Ramsar, Iran, the radiation level is 48 rem per year. In 1990, this city was host to an international conference on high levels of natural radiation (HLNR) It makes sense to hold such a conference in a city with one of the highest natural radiation levels in the world. One conclusion from this meeting was that epidemiological studies on HLNR in a number of other countries with high natural radiation did not provide any evidence that people were less healthy than in normal areas. 4

In spite of these examples and many others there is a myth that all ionizing radiation such as X-rays, CT scans, gamma rays, nuclear radiation, etc., is harmful to our health, no matter how low the dose. This, however, is no more true than that the Earth is flat or that one can turn base metals into gold through alchemy. Like every other agent that has been in the environment of developing bacterial, plant and animal life over the last 3 billion years or so, radiation has three ranges, too little, too much and just right. 5

There are ranges of concentration for both oxygen and water that are not only healthy but absolutely necessary for health. So it is for radiation: too little and immune systems fail to develop; too much causes radiation sickness and possible death, but in the ‘just right’ range, radiation lowers, rather than raises the risk of cancer, and prolongs life. This has been proven in hundreds and hundreds of experiments on animals and epidemiological observations on humans. 6

Yet these days we are confronted with the linear no-threshold (LNT) model of radiation. The LNT model holds that all ionizing radiation is harmful no matter how low the dose or dose rate.

Governments and advisory boards have based regulatory policy for over 70 years on the LNT model of radiation induced cancer.

This, in spite of the fact the epidemiological studies that claim to confirm LNT either neglect experimental and/or observational discoveries at the cellular and tissue levels, or mention them only to distort or dismiss them. The appearance of validity in these studies rests on circular reasoning, cherry picking, faulty experimental design, and/or misleading inferences from weak statistical evidence.  In contrast, studies based on biological discoveries demonstrate the reality of hormesis (low doses help, high doses hurt). Editors of medical journals now admit that perhaps half of the scientific literature may be untrue. Radiation science falls into this category. (6)

Here are some recent data besides that already mentioned supporting the hormesis model from real-life people who were unwittingly exposed to high levels of radiation. In 1983 a group of 180 apartment buildings was completed in Taiwan. Somebody had made a serious mistake. They had mixed into the concrete a considerable amount of highly radioactive cobalt-60.

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Dr. Carol Marcus, professor of nuclear medicine at the University of California, is on a campaign to change the way America treats radiation

The 10,000 people who were housed in this complex received large doses of radiation (an average of 40 rem) over a period of 9 to 20 years. According the LNT theory this should have led to a total of 302 cancer deaths over the 1983-2003 period studied, 232 of which would have been ordinarily expected had no radiation exposure occurred, with the additional 70 stemming from the exposure. To the researchers’ surprise, however, only 7 cancer deaths were found, 225 fewer than would have occurred had the buildings been free of radiation. Instead of radiation increasing the death toll by 30%, it may have reduced the death toll by a staggering 97%. The number of birth defects among children born in this radioactive environment also confound LNT theory. Instead of 48 defects expected, just three occurred. 7

With LNT theory, since there is no lower limit for the level at which radioactivity is lethal for humans, the Taiwan exposure should have been the site of a truly massive cancer death rate. Obviously, it wasn’t.

Dr. Carol Marcus, professor of nuclear medicine at the University of California, is on a campaign to change the way America treats radiation. In a pending petition, she is asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to abandon the LNT model, quoting another critic who calls it ‘the greatest scientific scandal of the 20th century.’ Two similar petitions, signed by about two dozen academics and others are also under NRC review. 8

Another researcher who has been promoting the hormesis model is Edward Calabrese of the University of Massachusetts. He reports, “At Umass we have done a lot in terms of scientific leadership, publishing nearly 200 papers on the hormesis topic and encouraging others to test their own hypothesis. The field has really matured. In 2014 alone, there were 6,500 citations on many different topics relating to the field.” 9

Misuse of the LNT model portends spending in excess of $1 trillion in the United States alone for negligible health benefits just for government environmental cleanup programs, while truly significant public health protections are unfunded. 10



  1. Richard D. Milvenan and Robert B. Hayes, “Contributions of various radiological sources to background in a suburban environment,” Health Physics, October 6, 2016
  2. Robert Hayes, “Don’t panic, but you avocado is radioactive: study eyes background radiation of everyday objects,” news.ncsu.edu, October 7, 2016
  3. Rosalyn S. Yalow, “Radiation and public perception,” in Radiation and Public Perception: Benefits and Risks, Editors, Jack P. Young and Rosalyn S. Yalow, (Washington, D.C., American Chemical Society, 1995), 2
  4. Mehdi Sohrabi, “International conference on high levels of natural radiation held at Ramsar, Islamic Republic of Iran,” November 3-7, 1990,” Nucl. Tracks Radiation Meas. 19, 357 (1991)
  5. Bill Sacks, “When epidemiology without biology is very bad for your health,” Priorities, July 2016
  6. Bill Sacks et al., “Epidemiology without biology: false paradigms, unfounded assumptions, and specious statistics in radiation science,” Biol. Theory, 2016; 11:69-101
  7. W. L. Chen et al., “Effects of cobalt-60 exposure on health of Taiwan residents suggest new approach needed in radiation protection,” Dose Response, 2007; 5(1), 63-758.
  8. “Is a little radiation so bad?” The Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2016
  9. Janet Lathrop, “Environmental toxicologist hopes hormesis may be acknowledged by US regulatory action,” umass.edu, July 21, 2015
  10. Jim Muckerheide, “The health effects of low-level radiation: science, data and corrective action,” Nuclear News, 38, 26, September 1995

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Jack Dini -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Jack Dini is author of Challenging Environmental Mythology.  He has also written for American Council on Science and Health, Environment & Climate News, and Hawaii Reporter.

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