Society News Archive

9 September 2004

The Scientific and Public Issues Committee (S&PIC) of the Health Physics Society (HPS) has recently issued a revised position statement, "Radiation Risk in Perspective."

The S&PIC is responsible for the preparation of impartial scientific and technical statements. The committee, along with the HPS president, serves as spokesman for the Society and is composed of the president, president-elect, and three most recent past presidents, with the most immediate past president serving as committee chair. The position statement "Radiation Risk in Perspective" was originally issued in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2001. The position statement recommends against quantitative estimation of health effects at low levels of radiation exposure. The August 2004 revision resulted from a reevaluation of the statement that specifically gave consideration to the latest radiation health studies and research. Committee Chair Ken Kase enlisted the help of John D. Boice of the International Epidemiology Institute and Kenneth L. Mossman of Arizona State University to serve as advisors to the committee in this reevaluation.

The revision (which does not substantially change the original position statement):

• changed the previous statement's call to put an "emphasis on the likely possibility of zero adverse health effects" at low doses to "including the possibility of no adverse health effects at such low levels" and changed the previous statement's wording that "zero health effects is the most likely outcome" to "zero health effects is a probable outcome" at low doses.

• added the Society's recognition of the practical advantages of using a linear, no-threshold hypothesis for the practice of radiation protection and the recognition of some applications where risk assessments at low doses can be used to inform decision making.

• includes a discussion of doses received from natural sources.

• provides some reasoning for using the linear, no-threshold hypothesis for radiation protection standards.

• identifies known cancers for which the linear, no-threshold hypothesis does not apply.

• calls for the use of organ-specific doses and risk factors when doing risk estimation above 5-10 rem.

• recognizes that the health effects, as determined by recent radiation research studies of biological mechanisms, are not well understood at low doses.