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JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Health effects of uranium: new research findings

Doug Brugge, Virginia Buchner
Reviews on Environmental Health 2011, 26 (4): 231-49
22435323
Recent plans for a nuclear renaissance in both established and emerging economies have prompted increased interest in uranium mining. With the potential for more uranium mining worldwide and a growth in the literature on the toxicology and epidemiology of uranium and uranium mining, we found it timely to review the current state of knowledge. Here, we present a review of the health effects of uranium mining, with an emphasis on newer findings (2005-2011). Uranium mining can contaminate air, water, and soil. The chemical toxicity of the metal constitutes the primary environmental health hazard, with the radioactivity of uranium a secondary concern. The update of the toxicologic evidence on uranium adds to the established findings regarding nephrotoxicity, genotoxicity, and developmental defects. Additional novel toxicologic findings, including some at the molecular level, are now emerging that raise the biological plausibility of adverse effects on the brain, on reproduction, including estrogenic effects, on gene expression, and on uranium metabolism. Historically, most epidemiology on uranium mining has focused on mine workers and radon exposure. Although that situation is still overwhelmingly true, a smaller emerging literature has begun to form around environmental exposure in residential areas near uranium mining and processing facilities. We present and critique such studies. Clearly, more epidemiologic research is needed to contribute to causal inference. As much damage is irreversible, and possibly cumulative, present efforts must be vigorous to limit environmental uranium contamination and exposure.

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