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Maps of the Exposure Area and Indian Nations Affected

Primary Areas Exposed to Radiation from Hanford and Exposure Pathways -- Shows the counties in Washington, Oregon and Idaho primarily affected from Hanford's releases.

HEDR Study Area -- Shows the 75,000-square-mile area for which the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project studied Hanford's radioactive releases and the exposures people may have received. Primary Areas Exposed to Radiation from Hanford and Exposure Pathways

You may have been exposed to radiation released from Hanford if you lived in certain areas of Washington, Oregon or Idaho between 1944 and 1972. This does not mean that radiation harmed the health of everyone living in these areas. It does mean that you may be more at risk for health problems related to radiation than people who did not live in these areas.

The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in southeastern Washington state released radioactive material into the air, soil and Columbia River. Most of the radioactive material was released from 1944 to 1972. The area exposed extends across Eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, and much of Idaho, into Montana and Canada, and through the Columbia River downstream from Hanford to Pacific coastal areas. As many as 2 million people were exposed.

With the spread of radioactive material through air and water, no exact borders for the emissions can be determined. This map shows counties that are part of the study for the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction (HEDR) Project. HEDR has estimated the amount or "dose" of radiation that representative individuals who were in this area may have received. (HEDR is a separate project, not affiliated with the Hanford Health Information Network.)

According to HEDR, the main way people were exposed to radiation released to the air was through drinking contaminated milk.The map also includes counties along the Columbia River downstream from Hanford. People were exposed to radioactive material through use of the river or from consuming contaminated food from the river and adjacent Pacific coastal areas.

Primary areas of exposure


This health bulletin will provide you and your health care provider with information about the releases of radioactive materials from Hanford and their potential health effects. Hanford, a federal nuclear facility located in south central Washington state, produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Individuals who lived near Hanford or used the Columbia River below Hanford between 1944 and 1972 (the years of major releases), may have received radiation doses (the amount of radiation absorbed by the body) that could have caused, or may cause, health problems.

This bulletin focuses on the health effects of iodine-131 because it contributed the most to radiation dose from Hanford's air emmissions. Other Hanford Health Information Network publications address other radioactive substances.

Factors that Affect Radiation Dose

The box on the map indicates the study area for which the Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction Project estimated the amounts, or "doses," of radiation that people living in this area may have received from Hanford's releases to air. The shaded area outlines the counties which include the Project's study area. It also shows areas of the Columbia River below Hanford. People living along the river and in other areas may have been exposed to radioactive materials through water from the Columbia River. This does not mean that radiation harmed the health of everyone living in these areas. It does mean that these people may be more at risk for health problems related to radiation than people who do not live in these areas. Some of the radioactive materials released from Hanford went beyond the shaded area into Montana and Canada.

A person can be exposed to radiation in two ways: internally, such as drinking milk contaminated with iodine-131; or externally, such as from chest X-rays. When taken into the body, some radioactive substances concentrate in one or more parts of the body. For example, iodine-131 concentrates in the thyroid gland. Other radioactive substances are distributed throughout the body.

Factors contributing to the radiation dose a person may have received from Hanford include:

# Eating radioactively contaminated milk, fruit, berries or leafy vegetables;

# Eating radioactively contaminated fish and shellfish; drinking contaminated Columbia River water, and boating on or swimming in the Columbia River below Hanford;

# The distance and direction from Hanford a person lived or spent time during the years of the radioactive releases, as well as the length of time a person spent there; and

# A person's gender and age. These affect the amount of food consumed, metabolism, body weight, and the weight of different organs. For instance, infants, children and teenagers concentrate more iodine in the thyroid gland than do adults.

Hanford Releases and Dose Reconstruction

From 1944 through 1972, Hanford released many radioactive materials into the air. The Hanford Environmental Dose Reconstruction (HEDR) Project was established decades later. HEDR estimated how much radioactive material was released from Hanford, how that material may have reached and exposed people, and what radiation dose people living in the HEDR study area (see map) may have received from Hanford's releases.

HEDR reported that the major releases into the air occurred from 1944 to 1957 and included an estimated 740,000 curies of iodine-131.2 The HEDR estimated that over this period, iodine-131 was the major contributor to radiation dose from the air releases. HEDR calculated dose estimates for 12 representative (typical) individuals for six of the radioactive materials released. These were: iodine-131, cerium-144, ruthenium-103, ruthenium-106, strontium-90 and plutonium-239.

From 1944 to 1971, Hanford released many radioactive substances into the Columbia River through water used to cool the reactors. The largest river releases occurred between the late 1950s and mid-1960s.3 According to HEDR, major contributers to dose from the river releases were sodium-24, phosphorus-32, zinc-65, arsenic-76 and neptunium-239. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now working to complete estimates of representative doses from the Columbia River and for people who worked on-site at hanford.

Potential Health Effects of Iodine-131

When iodine-131 is taken into the body, it concentrates mainly in the thyroid gland. Exposure to iodine-131 increases the risk for certain thyroid diseases. Science does not yet have clear answers about how much the risk for various thyroid diseases may be increased by iodine-131 exposure from Hanford.

In January 1999, the CDC released the Draft Final Report from the Hanford Thyroid Disease Study (HTDS). The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center conducted the study for the CDC. The study evaluated whether thyroid disease was related to the levels of estimated radiation doses among persons exposed as children in the 1940s and 1950s to Hanford's air releases of iodine-131.

The initial HTDS results were released in a draft report. While the study found thyroid diseases among HTDS participants, the initial results did not show a link between the estimated thyroid dose from iodine-131 and the amount of thyroid disease among participants. Those with higher estimated doses appeared to be no more likely to have thyroid diseases than were those with very low doses.

A National Academy of Sciences review panel wrote that the HTDS investigators "probably overstated the strength of their findings that there was no radiation effect." The panel found that the study methods were of high quality. However, that panel said that additional analyses are needed to explain what the study data mean about the full range of possible risk th the thyroid. A revised HTDS report is expected by December 2000.

The HTDS findings need to be viewed in light of other studies that suggest there is a link between iodine-131 and both benign and malignant thyroid tumors. A study was done of people who lived downwind from the Nevada Test Site and were exposed to nuclear fallout that included iodine-131. Study participants with higher doses were more likely to have thyroid nodules than were those with lower doses.4

Since 1992, scientists studying possible effects from the 1986 Chernobyl accident have reported that the rates of thyroid cancer were significantly increased among young people.5 Some recent data suggest a connection between radionuclide exposure and the thyroid cancers. Most of the exposure was from iodine-131. However, scientists cannot yet clearly describe the roles of iodine-131 and other factors in contributing to this increase. These other factors include exposure to additional radionuclides and a deficiency of nonradioactrive iodine in the diet (iodine deficiency disorder).

The National Research Council recently began a study to review the last 10 years of studies on the health effects of low-level ionizing radiation. Over the next three years, this study (called BEIR VII) will develop principles for quantifying the risk from this exposure.

When using information from dose reconstruction and health studies, readers should keep in mind that the strength of a study's findings is affected by a number of factors, such as the quality of the information available about doses or health outcomes, and the study's design.

Other Effects Many people exposed by Hanford are worried about their health. The involuntary exposures, the secrecy of the releases and the lack of health information have left some families understandably frustrated, mistrustful and angry. Many report feeling that the emotional and economic toll has been great, especially those who have thyroid diseases and other illnesses and whose family members, friends and neighbors are ill.

Recommendations for Health Screening and Assessment

A person who has received regular health care and has no symptoms of a disease may not need to see his or her health care provider. However, anyone with concerns about radiation exposure or thyroid disease should see his or her health care provider.

Special Attention to the Thyroid
The following guidelines are recommended for use by health care providers when assessing a person exposed to Hanford's radioactive releases into the air, since the most likely health effect is thyroid disease.6


  • Review of current symptoms
  • Standard medical history, including thyroid problems
  • Record place(s) of residence between 1944 and 1972
  • Record prior head and neck radiation treatments
  • Record exposure to radiation for diagnosis or treatment, including iodine-131 exposure
  • Record occupational exposures, including work with radioactive materials or X-ray equipment

Physical Exam

  • A complete exam with special attention to the thyroid

Recommended Diagnostic Tests

Follow-up of Problems

  • Appropriate care and treatment or referral as needed
  • Referral to specialists as needed

Recommendations for People without Problems

  • People without detectable problems should be re-evaluated yearly unless the health care provider decides less frequent screening is needed.


  • Be open and empathetic to the concerns of those who believe they were affected by Hanford.

NOTES 1. TSP Fact Sheet, Number 6, "Radioactivity in the Food Chain," February 1990. 2. W.T. Farris, et al., "Atmospheric Pathway Dosimetry Report, 1944-1992," PNWD-2228 HEDR, October 1994, p. B.4.

3. C.M. Heeb and D.J. Bates, "Radionuclide Releases to the Columbia River from Hanford Operations, 1944-1971," PNWD-2223 HEDR, May 1994, p. vii.

4. R.A. Kerber, et al., "A Cohort Study of Thyroid Disease in Relation to Fallout from Nuclear Weapons Testing," Journal of the American Medical Association , Vol. 270, No. 17, November 3, 1993, p. 2082.

5. P. Jacob, et al., "Thyroid Cancer Risk to Children Calculated," Nature, Vol. 392, No. 6671, March

5, 1998, pp. 31-32.6. See, for example, Hanford Thyroid Disease Study, "Recommended Guidelines for Evaluation of Thyroid Disease in Persons Potentially Exposed to Environmental Radioiodine, ",Feb. 1997, Click Here to Search This Site


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