Going beyond these experimental results, epidemiological studies focusing on populations living in contaminated areas should investigate the hypotheses put forward. This is why a pilot clinical study focusing on children living on Russian soil contaminated by the fall-out of the Chernobyl accident is currently being planned by the IRSN. The primary aim of this research programme known as EPICE (evaluation of diseases induced by caesium 137 contamination) is to carry out a vast epidemiological study to establish a possible link between the chronic ingestion of caesium 137 and the onset of a non-cancerous condition.
The first phase involves implementing a pilot study on a group of 49 children living in contaminated areas close to the town of Bryansk in North-Western Russia (359 km to the north east of Chernobyl). An analysis of the results suggests that there does not seem to be a link between caesium 137 contamination and the presence of two non-cancerous diseases - cardiac arrhythmias and cataracts- contrary to what was suggested by certain author in Belarus (Bandazhevskaya et al 2004). Similarly, no excess caesium 137 activity was detected in the hearts, thyroids or stomachs of these children (Landon, 2008).
In order to confirm or deny the data recorded in this pilot study, cardiac arrhythmias have been the subject of a more extensive investigation since May 2009. This study is scheduled to continue for 4 years. It involves listing the nature and frequency of cardiac arrhythmias in approximately 10,000 children living in contaminated areas and 10,000 children living in non-contaminated districts in the same region. The diagnosis made by local practitioners, and validated in conjunction with French experts, is based on the results of ECGs and ultrasound scans carried out routinely in children incorporated in this study after obtaining the parents' informed consent in writing. In addition, each child will undergo an anthroporadiametric examination to determine levels of caesium 137 in his/her body. Finally, 24-hour ECG recordings and targeted blood tests performed on some study groups will complete the examinations. Putting all of these results in perspective will allow investigators to confirm whether there is any increase in cardiac disorders in children ingesting caesium 137 with their food on a daily basis, to accurately identify the nature of these disorders and to examine a possible cause-effect link between cardiovascular disorders and chronic contamination with small doses of caesium 137.
These studies will also help to inform the debate that has been continuing for several years on the non-cancerous effects triggered by exposure to low doses of ionising radiation.