Implications for Human and Environmental Health of Low Doses of Radiation

  • Carmel E. Mothersill
  • Colin B. Seymour
Conference paper
Part of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Series C: Environmental Security book series (NAPSC)


Recent advances in our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the biological effects of low dose effects of ionizing radiation have revealed that similar mechanisms can be induced by chemicals in the environment. Therefore interactions between radiation and chemicals are likely and that the outcomes following mixed exposures to radiation and chemicals may not be predictable for human health, by consideration of single agent effects. Our understanding of the biological effects of low dose exposure has undergone a major paradigm shift. We now possess technologies which can detect very subtle changes in cells due to small exposures to radiation or other pollutants. We also understand much more now about cell communication, systems biology and the need to consider effects of low dose exposure at different hierarchical levels of organization from molecules up to and including ecosystems. We also understand at least in part, some of the mechanisms which drive low dose effects and which perpetuate these not only in the exposed organism but also in its progeny and even its kin. This means that previously held views about safe doses or lack of harmful effects cannot be sustained. ICRP and all national radiation and environmental protection organisations have always accepted a theoretical risk and have applied the precautionary principle and the LNT (linear-non-threshold) model which basically says that there is no safe dose of radiation. Therefore even in the absence of visible effects, exposure of people to radiation is strictly limited. This review will consider the history of the new discoveries and will focus on evidence for emergent effects after mixed exposures to combined stressors which include ionizing radiation. The implications for regulation of low dose exposures to protect human health and environmental security will be discussed.


Hierarchical Level Fish Cell Mixed Exposure Environmental Protection Organisation High Dose Effect 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



I acknowledge continued support from the Canada Research Chairs program, NSERC, and the EU NOTE integrated project.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Medical Physics and Applied Radiation SciencesMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada

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