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Radiation and the Environment

People are exposed to radiation through many natural and manmade sources. For example, people are exposed to varying amounts of radiation from sunlight, rocks and soil, food, water, air, airline travel, some medical procedures, computers, and nuclear weapons test fallout.

However, much of the world's attention is now focused on the recent earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan that not only caused massive devastation to its residents, but also to its ecosystem and environment. For example, as a result of these tragic events, a damaged nuclear plant in Japan is currently leaking radiation, therefore resulting in concerns about the potential impact it could have on the health of individuals and the environment.

CDC's Commitment to Protecting Public Health

Photo: Emergency responderPublic health professionals within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have long been committed to conducting research on the potential effects of radiation on both human health and the environment. Prior to the unfortunate events in Japan, the CDC recognized the need to prepare the public health and clinician workforce for radiological and nuclear terrorism incidents-- a critical need in our time.

To meet the need for mass casualty education and emergency response planning resources, the Radiation Studies Branch (RSB) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will sponsor a national conference on public health preparedness for radiation emergencies.

The conference, titled Bridging the Gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness, will be held in Atlanta, GA, March 21-24, 2011. Goals for this conference include the following:

  • Providing a forum for conference participants to discuss the current state of radiation emergency preparedness, including gaps and barriers, at the local, state, and federal levels.
  • Providing a forum for conference participants to share promising practices, lessons learned, and practical applications to enhance the planning for response to, and recovery from radiation emergencies.
  • Creating a professional network of public health professionals and other stakeholders invested in advancing the field of radiation emergency preparedness. Learn more about the conference or register to attend.

Bridging the gaps: Public Health and Radiation Emergency Preparedness. Plan to attend March 21-24, 2011. Crown Plaza Hotel Ravinia. Atlanta Georgia.Radiation Emergency Preparedness Program

The CDC established the Radiation Studies Branch (RSB) in 1991. Since its inception, RSB has participated in preparedness planning and exercises for nuclear power plant emergencies. However, after September 11, 2001, the branch's role expanded to focus on preparedness and response for a nuclear or radiation emergency.

Key responsibilities of the RSB include the following:

  • Identifying potentially harmful environmental exposures to ionizing radiation
  • Conducting public health research related to radiation exposures, and
  • Working to protect the public's health in the event of a radiation emergency.

Some of RSB's preparedness program activities include the following:

  • Working with the Federal Radiological Preparedness Coordinating Committee to prepare qualifications and guidance for the federal Advisory Team on Environment, Food, and Health.
  • Participating in emergency response drills each year to test federal, state, and local readiness for a nuclear or radiological event.
  • Collaborating with the Strategic National Stockpile to assess what additional supplies might be needed to prepare for a radiation emergency.
  • Developing planning guidance for public health officials at the state, local, territorial, and tribal levels on radiological emergency preparedness.

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: March 21, 2011
  • Page last updated: March 21, 2011
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs