Chernobyl Liquidators' Health
as a Psycho-Social Trauma


       The Chernobyl liquidators are the people who worked in the Chernobyl zone in 1986—1990, mitigating the consequences of the explosion at the Chernobyl NPP, of total estimated number around 0.5 million; absolute majority of them were non-professionals and males.
       The author, an ex-officer of radiation reconnaissance in Chernobyl in 1986, assesses their present health state and its possible reasons using diverse literature data, interviews with experts, medical doctors and liquidators, and his insider's knowledge of both radiation and non-radiation circumstances of the liquidators' work and stay in the zone and the circumstances of the “post-zone” period of their life; many of these circumstances are described in the literature for the first time.
       For the majority of the liquidators the health state observed is explained by the effects of in-zone and post-zone non-radiation harmful factors of psychological and social nature rather than by the fact of their irradiation.
       The effects of in-zone factors is dealt through the frameworks of distress (according to Selye), occupational stress, extreme/unusual environment impact, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
       Post-zone harmful factors, affecting the liquidators' health, include: information (or rather “mis- and under-information”) factor, which both directly affects their health, and pre-defines detrimental societal responses; the medical mistakes (both intentional and not intentional); the drawbacks in the welfare system (which is partly based on the principle “compensation on disease”, which stimulates diseases and poor social adaptation); and distress, general for the citizens of the countries in transition.
       The comparison of the Chernobyl liquidators' case with other cases of the affected by traumatic events of different nature (war veterans (Vietnam War, Gulf War; Afghan War of the USSR), Semipalatinsk and Chernobyl area's inhabitants) has shown that the conclusions, obtained for the Chernobyl liquidators, largely coincide with those for the other cases.

       Keywords: accident, Chernobyl, clean-up, communication, disaster, ecological disaster, external irradiation, internal irradiation, liquidators, mitigation, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), psychological effects, radiation

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Design by: M.Opalev
Studio ARWIS  Kharkov, 2001