Study faults regulators for relying on ‘reference man’ radiation dose standard

January 12, 2009
James Brice

A study from the Institute for Energy and Environment Research indicates that U.S. radiation exposure regulations and compliance assessment guidelines often underestimate the risk of radiation for women and children because they are based on standards of a “reference man,” a hypothetical 20- to 30-year-old white male.

A study from the Institute for Energy and Environment Research indicates that U.S. radiation exposure regulations and compliance assessment guidelines often underestimate the risk of radiation for women and children because they are based on standards of a "reference man," a hypothetical 20- to 30-year-old white male.

At least three federal agencies -- the Environmental Protection Agency, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Department of Energy -- still use reference man criteria to guide radiation dose regulations and compliance assessment, according to the IEER.

"The use of the reference man standard is pervasive in U.S. radiation protection regulations and compliance guidelines," said IEER president Arjun Makihjani, Ph.D, the report's author. "This is wrong because it often fails to adequately protect groups other than young adult males."

A woman is 52% more likely than a man to develop cancer from the same radiation doses, according to Makihjani. Children are at greater risk than adults. A female infant has about a seven times greater chance of eventually developing cancer than a 30-year-old male from the same radiation dose.

Pregnant women and the developing fetus are particular vulnerable, but noncancer reproductive effects are generally not part of the U.S. regulatory framework for radiation production, he said.

The institute noted that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform queried the EPA in May 2008 about its continued use of the reference man standard. In its response, the EPA admitted that it was still used in some guidelines, despite falling out of favor among regulators.

The report recommends that compliance with radiation protection always be estimated by calculating doses for those at the greatest risk. It calls for a significant reduction in the maximum allowable dose to the general public from 100 mrem per year to 25 mrem per year. It also recommends a revamping of EPA guidance documents to reflect doses received by men and women of all ages.

Other recommendations include tightening radiation protection standards for women who are exposed to radiation in the workplace and publication of an official federal guidance on in utero dose estimation methods.

For more information from the Diagnostic Imaging and SearchMedica archives:

Radiologists remain unaware of radiation reduction strategiesSouth Carolina radiologist defies ‘Rad Scare'Radiation dose awareness leads to more pediatric referral for ultrasound and MRIFinding dose/quality balance presents CT imaging challenge

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