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The Children of Chernobyl

Thyroid cancer, illness rampant

By

Updated May 25, 2006

"More than fourteen years after the accident which made Chernobyl a symbol of fear throughout the world, the catastrophe is far from over for the inhabitants of the region. In Belarus, in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation, it continues to have a devastating effect not only on the health of the people, but on every aspect of society." United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, June 12, 2000.

The nuclear accident
On April 26, 1986, at 1:23 a.m. an explosion and fire occurred in Reactor Number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. Before engineers and scientists could get it under control, 190 tons of highly radioactive material were released into the atmosphere. The radioactive particles rained down not only on Chernobyl, but all over Ukraine, as well as the neighboring countries of Belarus and Russia, and drifted over to other European countries such as Poland. Scientists estimate that the amount of particles released was equivalent to the effect of 20 nuclear bombs. The Chernobyl accident remains the largest peacetime nuclear disaster ever.

Medical consequences
The massive radiation killed 31 people within a short time, mostly plant workers and people close to the accident site who died of radiation sickness. As time passed it became clear that the accident had left a number of serious long-term health problems for the people who lived in the area. These health problems were made worse by the poverty, poor nutrition, and lack of medical care in the region.

Thyroid cancer and the children
Most people around the world have forgotten the events of 1986. People in the area, however, are reminded of the nuclear accident whenever they look at their children and youth. The children are often behind in their growth, have poor dental health, immune disorders, and have a 10 times higher than normal rate of thyroid cancer.

Dr. Virginia LiVolsa of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, who has studied the thyroid cancer patients from the affected countries, found that more than 40 percent of the patients were children 4 years old or younger at the time of the accident. "The group at maximum risk is those exposed to high radiation levels when they were younger than 5 years," Dr. LiVolsa stated in a Reuters interview. "This is the age when the thyroid gland is most sensitive to ionizing radiation."

Chernobyl Children Project USA
Established in 1995, the Chernobyl Children Project USA is a non-profit organization that provides medical consultation and evaluation, dental care, clothing, gifts, and social events for the children of the Chernobyl region. In addition, the organization sends medical supplies to the hospitals near their homes.

Each year, a medical team from Boston, Massachusetts, visits Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus to choose 100 or so children who have radiation-related diseases from the Chernobyl disaster. In June, the chosen children are flown to Boston for medical and dental care, staying with host families in the area. Almost all of this is provided free of charge to the children's families by Chernobyl Children Project, thanks to the compassion and generosity of health care providers and businesses in Boston. Over 1,200 children have been helped.

It is not clear what the future of the children of the Chernobyl region will be, but for now, some are happier, healthier, and surviving illness because of the Chernobyl Children Project.

Sources:
- Chernobyl Children Project USA
- McGrory, B. "Caring knows no bounds." The Boston Globe, July 27, 2001.
- Reuters. "Thyroid cancer 10 times higher in Chernobyl kids." June 30, 1999.

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