Living in Chernobyl Healthier than Polluted Cities

As unbelievable as it sounds, a UK study has found the dangers of air pollution in major cities is worse than the damaging health affects radiation exposure has had on Chernobyl survivors.

A report published last week by Dr. Jim Smith, a scientist at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, finds high levels or urban air pollution, obesity and tobacco smoke exposure may shorten life expectancy more than radiation exposure.

The study looked at emergency workers who were sent into Chernobyl's 19-mile exclusion zone immediately after the reactor explosions and residents who moved back afterwards. Two explosions at the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 killed three immediately and over 30 others died from acute radiation poising. A radioactive plume spread over Europe and may have caused 16,000 more deaths.

Radiation health affects were compared with risks such as air pollution and tobacco smoke. The Chernobyl group was found to be hit with the radiation equivalent of over 12,000 chest x-rays, making for a one percent increase in cancer deaths.

Air pollution more than twice as deadly

Air pollution in central London increases mortality rates by 2.8 percent over the country's least polluted city, while living with a smoker increases mortality by 1.7 percent. What Dr. Smith wrote about the importance of the numbers really surprised me:

"Populations still living unofficially in the abandoned lands around Chernobyl may actually have a lower health risk from radiation than they would have if they were exposed to air pollution in a large city, such as nearby Kiev."

Smith said the purpose of the report was to put the understandable fear of radiation in context with risks encountered in our daily lives. I guess it does that, but more so it should make people realize just how dangerous air pollution really is -- global warming isn't the only reason we need to cut emissions.
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