Population monitoring: Experience with residents exposed to uranium mining/milling waste

W. W. Au, M. A. McConnell, G. S. Wilkinson, V. M.S. Ramanujam, N. Alcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


More emphasis should be placed upon using biomarkers to address potential health risk among populations exposed to high concentrations of environmental toxicants. Among these studies, those which integrate exposure measurements with analyses of validated biomarkers may provide more reliable information for risk assessment and disease prevention. We have used a multidisciplinary approach to elucidate potential health hazards in a population living around uranium mining/milling facilities. The study included 24 target and 24 control residents who were matched for age and gender and selected based on time of residence in the study areas and proximity to mining/milling sites. Environmental samples were analyzed for uranium-238 (238U) concentrations and lead isotope ratios using inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) procedures, and blood samples were collected for cytogenetic analysis. We found that the 238U concentrations in soil samples were significantly higher than those in the control areas. In addition, the concentrations in the surface soil were significantly higher than in the subsurface soil (p<0.05) from target areas indicating environmental contamination by the mining/milling activities. Lead isotope data from soil samples taken near a railroad transfer location was significantly different from those of other sites, indicating contamination by non-native ore transported from sources outside of the region to local milling facilities for processing. Therefore, local residents have been exposed to low levels of radioactive contamination from the mining/milling activities on a daily basis for many years. From our cytogenetic analysis, the target population had more chromosome aberrations than the controls, although the differences were not significant (p<0.05). However, using our challenge assay, cells from the target population had a significantly abnormal DNA repair response, compared to cells from the same control population. In conclusion, the observed environmental contamination by uranium is consistent with the observed genotoxic effects in the target residents. Therefore, the residents have increased health risk and some of the health problems will most likely be related to exposure to the radioactive contaminants. Since the chromosome aberration frequency revealed increased, but not significant differences between the exposed and the control populations, we conclude that the health risk among the exposed residents is similar to those among nuclear workers. Copyright (C) 1998 Elsevier Science B.V.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)237-245
Number of pages9
JournalMutation Research - Fundamental and Molecular Mechanisms of Mutagenesis
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 20 1998


  • Biomarker
  • Chromosome aberration
  • Environmental toxicant
  • ICP-MS
  • Radioactive contamination
  • Uranium mining/milling waste

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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