External gamma radiation and mortality from cardiovascular diseases in the German WISMUT uranium miners cohort study, 1946–2008
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It is currently unclear whether exposure of the heart and vascular system, at lifetime accumulated dose levels relevant to the general public (<500 mGy), is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, data from the German WISMUT cohort of uranium miners were investigated for evidence of a relationship between external gamma radiation and death from cardiovascular diseases. The cohort comprises 58,982 former employees of the Wismut company. There were 9,039 recorded deaths from cardiovascular diseases during the follow-up period from 1946 to 2008. Exposures to external gamma radiation were estimated using a detailed job-exposure matrix. The exposures were based on expert ratings for the period 1946–1954 and measurements thereafter. The excess relative risk (ERR) per unit of cumulative gamma dose was obtained with internal Poisson regression using a linear ERR model with baseline stratification by age and calendar year. The mean cumulative gamma dose was 47 mSv for exposed miners (86 %), with a maximum of 909 mSv. No evidence for an increase in risk with increasing cumulative dose was found for mortality from all cardiovascular diseases (ERR/Sv = −0.13; 95 % confidence interval (CI): −0.38; 0.12) and ischemic heart diseases (n = 4,613; ERR/Sv = −0.03; 95 % CI: −0.38, 0.32). However, a statistically insignificant increase (n = 2,073; ERR/Sv = 0.44; 95 % CI: −0.16, 1.04) for mortality from cerebrovascular diseases was observed. Data on smoking, diabetes, and overweight are available for subgroups of the cohort, indicating no major correlation with cumulative gamma radiation. Confounding by these factors or other risk factors, however, cannot be excluded. In conclusion, the results provide weak evidence for an increased risk of death due to gamma radiation only for cerebrovascular diseases.
KeywordsCohort study Cardiovascular disease Uranium miner Relative risk Ionizing radiation
The authors thank the German Federation of Institutions for Statutory Accident Insurance and Prevention (DGUV) and the Miners’ Occupational Compensation Board (Bergbau Berufsgenossenschaften) for their continuous support over many years. The field work for the follow-up was conducted by I + G Gesundheitsforschung and Mediveritas GmbH. Their commitment helped to achieve the low percentage of lost to follow-up.
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