Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 50, Issue 11, pp 1753–1760 | Cite as

Mental health and alcohol problems among Estonian cleanup workers 24 years after the Chernobyl accident

  • Kaia LaidraEmail author
  • Kaja Rahu
  • Mare Tekkel
  • Anu Aluoja
  • Mall Leinsalu
Original Paper



To study the long-term mental health consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident among cleanup workers from Estonia.


In 2010, 614 Estonian Chernobyl cleanup workers and 706 geographically and age-matched population-based controls completed a mail survey that included self-rated health, the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL), alcohol symptoms (AUDIT), and scales measuring depressive, anxiety, agoraphobia, fatigue, insomnia, and somatization symptoms. Respondents were dichotomized into high (top quartile) and low symptom groups on each measure.


Logistic regression analysis detected significant differences between cleanup workers and controls on all measures even after adjustment for ethnicity, education, marital status, and employment status. The strongest difference was found for somatization, with cleanup workers being three times more likely than controls to score in the top quartile (OR = 3.28, 95 % CI 2.39–4.52), whereas for alcohol problems the difference was half as large (OR = 1.52, 95 % CI 1.16–1.99). Among cleanup workers, arrival at Chernobyl in 1986 (vs. later) was associated with sleep problems, somatization, and symptoms of agoraphobia.


The toll of cleanup work was evident 24 years after the Chernobyl accident among Estonian cleanup workers indicating the need for focused mental health interventions.


Chernobyl nuclear accident Cleanup workers Mental health Alcohol problems Estonia 



This study was supported by grants from the Estonian Science Foundation (JD152), from the Estonian Ministry of Science and Education (SF0940026s07), and from the Estonian Research Council (IUT5-1). We are grateful to Prof. Evelyn Bromet for her helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kaia Laidra
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kaja Rahu
    • 1
  • Mare Tekkel
    • 1
  • Anu Aluoja
    • 2
  • Mall Leinsalu
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Epidemiology and BiostatisticsNational Institute for Health DevelopmentTallinnEstonia
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of TartuTartuEstonia
  3. 3.Stockholm Centre for Health and Social Change (SCOHOST)Södertörn UniversityHuddingeSweden

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