Trump Administration, EPA Say Radiation Is Good for You

radioactive face cream 1918 advertisment
A cropped 1918 advertisment for radioactive face cream.

Madison Historical Society / Flickr / All rights reserved

Soon American workers can get more health-giving exposure to x-rays and radiation and help the economy boom!

The Trump administration is trying to weaken radiation regulations, after listening to a few scientists and skeptics who suggest that radiation is actually good for you. Toxicologist Edward Calabrese has been saying for years that there is in fact a hormesis effect; according to the Associated Press,

Calabrese and his supporters argue that smaller exposures of cell-damaging radiation and other carcinogens can serve as stressors that activate the body’s repair mechanisms and can make people healthier. They compare it to physical exercise or sunlight.
1930s Vita Radium suppositories box
This 1930s product was aimed at men who were "showing signs of “slowing up” in your actions and duties.  Joel Lubenau /

And who could argue with exercise or sunlight? Not only that but keeping radiation levels low costs the American economy a lot of money cleaning up nuclear plants, working at superfund sites, and operating x-ray machines. Under the new regulations, people could work longer hours with less protection and count their health blessings. Calabrese says of the change: "This would have a positive effect on human health as well as save billions and billions and billions of dollars."

AP notes that where the EPA used to say that any exposure, even below 100 millisieverts, increased risk of cancer, now they have changed their guidance:

“According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of ...100 millisieverts usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk.”
radiation risk model
Graph from Integration of Hormesis and LNT Optimizes Cancer Risk Assessment, published in Health Physics, March 2016 - Volume 110 - Issue 3 - p 256-259.  Calabrese et al / Health Physics

Since the fifties the scientific consensus has been that there is no safe dose of radiation, no threshold and that it follows a linear relationship: the more radiation one is exposed to, the greater the risk. That's called the Linear No Threshold or LNT dose. Studies looking at people exposed to radiation right back to Hiroshima demonstrated that low exposures cause a significant increase in cancer rates.

Calabrese calls this model "historically corrupt and scientifically flawed. He claims that there is a "sweet spot" where the benefits outlay the risks, where the radiation actually reduces the incidence of tumors.

This “sweet spot” is the dose where health benefits are optimized, and risks are minimized. The resultant of these converging science-driven processes will yield the optimal public health dose.

Calabrese's thesis is being pushed on the EPA by Steven Milloy, who also says tobacco smoke is harmless, that climate change is a hoax, that getting rid of coal is futile. Coincidentally, Calabrese's research is funded by the ExxonMobil Foundation, which has to deal with pesky radiation limits when drilling for oil. Other scientists think this is all nuts. Physicist Jan Beyea is quoted by AP:

The EPA proposal on radiation and other health threats represents voices “generally dismissed by the great bulk of scientists.” The EPA proposal would lead to “increases in chemical and radiation exposures in the workplace, home and outdoor environment, including the vicinity of Superfund sites,” Beyea wrote.

But hey, just like the mercury regulations that are being rolled back, you have to think of the economy first and all the money that will be saved. And remember, it's good for you!

Radium powered foot warmer advertisment
An advertisement for Novelty’s “X-Radium” foot warmer, which used radium to keep a carrier’s toes warm in winter.  Nancy A. Pope /