Implications for environmental health of multiple stressors
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Recent insights into the mechanisms underlying the biological effects of low dose effects of ionising radiation have revealed that similar mechanisms can be induced by chemical stressors in the environment. This means that interactions between radiation and chemicals are likely and that the outcomes following mixed exposures to radiation and chemicals may not be predictable for human health, by consideration of single agent effects. Our understanding of the biological effects of low dose exposure has undergone a major paradigm shift. We now possess technologies which can detect very subtle changes in cells due to small exposures to radiation or other pollutants. We also understand much more now about cell communication, systems biology and the need to consider effects of low dose exposure at different hierarchical levels of organisation from molecules up to and including ecosystems. Furthermore we understand, at least in part, some of the mechanisms which drive low dose effects and which perpetuate these not only in the exposed organism but also in its progeny and in certain cases, its kin. This means that previously held views about safe doses or lack of harmful effects cannot be sustained. The International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP) and all national radiation and environmental protection organisations have always accepted a theoretical risk and have applied the precautionary principle and the LNT (linear-non-threshold) model which basically says that there is no safe dose of radiation. Therefore even in the absence of visible effects, exposure of people to radiation is strictly limited. This review will consider the historical context and the new discoveries and will focus on evidence for emergent effects after mixed exposures to combined stressors which include ionising radiation. The implications for regulation of low dose exposures to protect human health and environmental security will be discussed.
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