Study: U.S. mortality rates suggest background radiation actually beneficial

The uncertainty of science: According to a new study by researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel of mortality rates across the entire United States, people that live in regions of higher background radiation have lifespans on average 2.5 years longer.

Background radiation is an ionizing radiation that exists in the environment because of natural sources. In their study, BGU researchers show that life expectancy is approximately 2.5 years longer among people living in areas with a relatively high vs. low background radiation. Background radiation includes radiation emanating from space, and radiation from terrestrial sources. Since the 1960s, there has been a linear no-threshold hypothesis guiding policy that any radiation level carries some risk. Hundreds of billions of dollars are spent around the world to reduce radiation levels as much as possible.

…According to BGU Professors Vadim Fraifeld and Marina Wolfson, along with Dr. Elroei David of the Nuclear Research Center Negev, lower levels of several types of cancers were found when the radiation levels were on the higher end of the spectrum rather than on the lower end. Among both men and women, there was a significant decrease in lung, pancreatic, colon and rectal cancers. Among men, there were additional decreases in brain and bladder cancers. There was no decrease in cervix, breast or prostate cancers or leukemia.

Their data “covered the entire US population of the 3139 US counties, encompassing over 320 million people,” according to their paper’s abstract.

Up until now the assumption has been that any radiation is bad, based not on research but on assumptions gained by the negative consequence of exposure to high radiation. There has been no good data on the consequences of low level background radiation, because it is so hard to gather. The time frames are long and the numbers small, all of which causes the impact of background radiation to be overwhelmed by other factors. This study’s statistical use of the entire U.S. population is an attempt to overcome these obstacles.

This study is statistical, which means it found a correlation between higher radiation and longer lifespans. Correlation however does not prove causation. The study found no direct evidence that humans health benefits from background radiation. We should therefore take these results with a large grain of salt.

At the same time, their extremely large database is quite telling, and adds some weight to their conclusion.