Research and analysis

Radioactive objects on beaches near Sellafield: health risks

This report (HPA-CRCE-018) describes an assessment of the health risks to people using Cumbrian coast beaches from contaminated objects.

Documents

HPA-CRCE-018: health risks from radioactive objects on beaches in the vicinity of the Sellafield site

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HPA-CRCE-018 (supplement): supporting information for the assessment of the health risks from radioactive objects on beaches on the vicinity of the Sellafield site

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Detail

In 2007, the Environment Agency (EA) sought the advice of the Health Protection Agency (HPA) on the health implications of the findings of beach monitoring in the vicinity of the Sellafield site. In May 2008, EA asked HPA to undertake an assessment of the health risks to people using the beaches along the Cumbrian coast from contaminated objects on the beaches.

The assessment addressed 2 key aspects:

  1. estimates have been made of the likelihood that people using the beaches for various activities could come into contact with a radioactive object
  2. in the unlikely event that an individual does come into contact with such an object, the resulting radiation doses and associated health risks have been assessed

The conclusion was that the overall health risks for beach users were very low, and significantly lower than other risks that people accept when using the beaches. HPA updated its formal advice to EA taking into account the findings of this study and the significance of the estimated health risks. It recommended 3 criteria for prompting an urgent review of health risks to beach users which address risks from:

  • ingestion
  • overall fatal cancer
  • deterministic effects to skin.

HPA also recommended that continued regular monitoring of Sellafield beach and one or 2 other beaches with high public occupancy would provide regulators and the public with continued reassurance that risks associated with radioactive objects in the environment remain very low.

The supplementary report provides the full scientific basis for the statements made in the report and gives a detailed account of the assessment made together with descriptions of the methodology and data used.