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Boice, John D. Jr*†; Leggett, Richard W.‡; Ellis, Elizabeth Dupree§; Wallace, Phillip W.§; Mumma, Michael*; Cohen, Sarah S.*; Brill, A Bertrand†; Chadda, Bandana*; Boecker, Bruce B.**; Yoder, R Craig††; Eckerman, Keith F.‡

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000183763.02247.7e

Incomplete radiation exposure histories, inadequate treatment of internally deposited radionuclides, and failure to account for neutron exposures can be important uncertainties in epidemiologic studies of radiation workers. Organ-specific doses from lifetime occupational exposures and radionuclide intakes were estimated for an epidemiologic study of 5,801 Rocketdyne/Atomics International (AI) radiation workers engaged in nuclear technologies between 1948 and 1999. The entire workforce of 46,970 Rocketdyne/AI employees was identified from 35,042 Kardex work histories cards, 26,136 electronic personnel listings, and 14,189 radiation folders containing individual exposure histories. To obtain prior and subsequent occupational exposure information, the roster of all workers was matched against nationwide dosimetry files from the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Landauer dosimetry company, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Air Force. Dosimetry files of other worker studies were also accessed. Computation of organ doses from radionuclide intakes was complicated by the diversity of bioassay data collected over a 40-y period (urine and fecal samples, lung counts, whole-body counts, nasal smears, and wound and incident reports) and the variety of radionuclides with documented intake including isotopes of uranium, plutonium, americium, calcium, cesium, cerium, zirconium, thorium, polonium, promethium, iodine, zinc, strontium, and hydrogen (tritium). Over 30,000 individual bioassay measurements, recorded on 11 different bioassay forms, were abstracted. The bioassay data were evaluated using ICRP biokinetic models recommended in current or upcoming ICRP documents (modified for one inhaled material to reflect site-specific information) to estimate annual doses for 16 organs or tissues taking into account time of exposure, type of radionuclide, and excretion patterns. Detailed internal exposure scenarios were developed and annual internal doses were derived on a case-by-case basis for workers with committed equivalent doses indicated by screening criteria to be greater than 10 mSv to the organ with the highest internal dose. Overall, 5,801 workers were monitored for radiation at Rocketdyne/AI: 5,743 for external exposure and 2,232 for internal intakes of radionuclides; 41,169 workers were not monitored for radiation. The mean cumulative external dose based on Rocketdyne/AI records alone was 10.0 mSv, and the dose distribution was highly skewed with most workers experiencing low cumulative doses and only a few with high doses (maximum 500 mSv). Only 45 workers received greater than 200 mSv while employed at Rocketdyne/AI. However, nearly 32% (or 1,833) of the Rocketdyne/AI workers had been monitored for radiation at other nuclear facilities and incorporation of these doses increased the mean dose to 13.5 mSv (maximum 1,005 mSv) and the number of workers with >200 mSv to 69. For a small number of workers (n = 292), lung doses from internal radionuclide intakes were relatively high (mean 106 mSv; maximum 3,560 mSv) and increased the overall population mean dose to 19.0 mSv and the number of workers with lung dose >200 mSv to 109. Nearly 10% of the radiation workers (584) were monitored for neutron exposures (mean 1.2 mSv) at Rocketdyne/AI, and another 2% were monitored for neutron exposures elsewhere. Interestingly, 1,477 workers not monitored for radiation at Rocketdyne/AI (3.6%) were found to have worn dosimeters at other nuclear facilities (mean external dose of 2.6 mSv, maximum 188 mSv). Without considering all sources of occupational exposure, an incorrect characterization of worker exposure would have occurred with the potential to bias epidemiologic results. For these pioneering workers in the nuclear industry, 26.5% of their total occupational dose (collective dose) was received at other facilities both prior to and after employment at Rocketdyne/AI. In addition, a small number of workers monitored for internal radionuclides contributed disproportionately to the number of workers with high lung doses. Although nearly 12% of radiation workers had been monitored for neutron exposures during their career, the cumulative dose levels were small in comparison with other external and internal exposure. Risk estimates based on nuclear worker data must be interpreted cautiously if internally deposited radionuclides and occupational doses received elsewhere are not considered.

* International Epidemiology Institute, 1455 Research Blvd., Suite 550, Rockville, MD 20850; † Vanderbilt University Medical School and Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, Nashville, TN; ‡ Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN; § Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge, TN; ** Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute, Albuquerque, NM; †† Landauer, Inc., Glenwood, IL.

For correspondence or reprints contact: John D. Boice, Jr., International Epidemiology Institute, 1455 Research Blvd., Suite 550, Rockville, MD 20850, or email at

(Manuscript received 18 October 2004; revised manuscript received 13 July 2005, accepted 11 November 2005)

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