Radiation column stoked gore and fear

Thank you, Dr. Hook, for your clinically-detailed, step-by-step account of how one slowly dies from a lethal dose of radiation poisoning. [March 24: "Radiation sickness: Horrible symptoms, horrible death"]

This must be the reassuring message that you felt Charlottesville was looking for in the aftermath of the ongoing tragedy in Japan.  Aside from a possible morbid curiosity as what fate might await the plant workers in Japan if they were to receive such a lethal exposure (so far none have been reported), what is the take-away-message you were hoping to convey? What is the relevance to us here in Charlottesville?

Physicians are entrusted not only to provide information, but also to use their judgment as to what information would be in the best interest of the patient.

You mentioned the Chernobyl accident (a plant of a woefully primitive design) and “thousands of exposures” without any mention of the health consequences of those exposures. Sorting out the radiation health problems from this population has been an ongoing epidemiological challenge. No increase in leukemia or solid tumors has been found. Thyroid cancers were increased, but actual deaths few.

“Don't forget Three Mile Island!” Forget what Dr. Hook? Over 30,000 nearby residents were followed for almost 20 years, and no evidence of unusual health effects was noted. The average radiation exposure was likened to one extra chest film, or to one-third of the average yearly radiation background.

You mentioned “more than 750,000 persons have been exposed to radiation.” Would that include the natural bananas that they buy at the natural food store and which are naturally radioactive with potassium-40? The “Banana Equivalent Dose” is used in the scientific literature as a measure of radioactivity. Your readers might find the term “hormesis” and the possibly beneficial effects of low-level radiation more reassuring than your scare story.

Charles Battig, M.D.