Environmental uranium exposure originating as a byproduct of uranium processing can impact human health. The Fernald Feed Materials Production Center functioned as a uranium processing facility from 1951 to 1989, and potential health effects among residents living near this plant were investigated via the Fernald Medical Monitoring Program (FMMP).
Data from 8,216 adult FMMP participants were used to test the hypothesis that elevated uranium exposure was associated with indicators of hypertension or changes in hematologic parameters at entry into the program. A cumulative uranium exposure estimate, developed by FMMP investigators, was used to classify exposure. Systolic and diastolic blood pressure and physician diagnoses were used to assess hypertension; and red blood cells, platelets, and white blood cell differential counts were used to characterize hematology. The relationship between uranium exposure and hypertension or hematologic parameters was evaluated using generalized linear models and quantile regression for continuous outcomes, and logistic regression or ordinal logistic regression for categorical outcomes, after adjustment for potential confounding factors.
Of 8,216 adult FMMP participants 4,187 (51%) had low cumulative uranium exposure, 1,273 (15%) had moderate exposure, and 2,756 (34%) were in the high (>0.50 Sievert) cumulative lifetime uranium exposure category. Participants with elevated uranium exposure had decreased white blood cell and lymphocyte counts and increased eosinophil counts. Female participants with higher uranium exposures had elevated systolic blood pressure compared to women with lower exposures. However, no exposure-related changes were observed in diastolic blood pressure or hypertension diagnoses among female or male participants.
Results from this investigation suggest that residents in the vicinity of the Fernald plant with elevated exposure to uranium primarily via inhalation exhibited decreases in white blood cell counts, and small, though statistically significant, gender-specific alterations in systolic blood pressure at entry into the FMMP.