Request Executive Order to Shift Federal Regulation Basis from “Reference Man” to Groups Most At Risk – Pregnant Women, Children

Takoma Park, Md., February 20, 2008: More than 3,000 groups and individuals today sent a letter to President Bush urging him to shift the basis of many U.S. radiation health protection standards from an adult Caucasian male model, called “Reference Man,” to those most at risk, specifically including children and pregnant women.

Signers include elected officials, including Georgia State Senators Nan Grogan Orrock and Regina Thomas; health professionals’ organizations, including the American Public Health Association; faith-based groups, including the National Council of Churches; well-known environmental advocate Lois Gibbs; and many physicians, children’s health advocates, environmental justice organizations, women’s groups, and more.

The letter calls on President Bush to direct all federal agencies – including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy, and Nuclear Regulatory Commission – to review their exposure standards and bring them into line with the spirit of Executive Order 13045 on the Protection of Children From Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks. Many federal radiation protection standards are based on “Reference Man;” however, other groups – including women, children, and the embryo/fetus – are often more sensitive to the harmful effects of radiation.

“Reference Man” is officially defined as a Caucasian male who is 20 to 30 years old, weighs 154 pounds, is five feet seven inches tall, and is “Western European or North American in habitat and custom.” Reference Man is often used to set federal rules and regulations, such as limits on how much residual radiation will be allowed after a contaminated site is cleaned up. Reference Man is part of EPA’s Federal Guidance Report No. 11, which is still widely used as the basis of radiation dose calculations.

“A central principle of environmental health protection – protecting those most at risk – is missing from much of the U.S. regulatory framework for radiation,” explained Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (IEER), which initiated the letter. “Women’s higher cancer risk per unit of radiation exposure is not properly reflected in current regulations. Neither is the possibility of early miscarriages or fetal malformations potentially caused by radiation exposure.”

“It is essential that our government take the necessary steps to not only acknowledge the risk differential when looking at the dangers of radiation exposure among pregnant women and children, but to also protect the health of these vulnerable populations,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“Georgians are concerned about radioactive contamination of the Savannah River from waste at the federal Savannah River Site,” said Georgia State Senator Nan Grogan Orrock. “People catch and eat fish from the river. Many communities depend on the river for their drinking water. As an elected official, a woman, and a mother, I ask the federal government to do its job and set health standards that protect all of us, not just adult men.”

The signers are asking President Bush to issue a Presidential Executive Order requiring all federal agencies and departments to:

  • Review their definitions of “Reference” persons and modify them as necessary so that all rules protect those most at risk;
  • Review their rules regarding protection of prospective parents and pregnant women in the workplace;
  • Update the computer models used to estimate dose and risk for regulatory purposes to take into account the embryo/fetus and children; and,
  • Prohibit workplace discrimination based on genetic information.

In addition, the letter seeks support for legislation requiring federal health and environment regulations to protect those most at risk as well as funding for research on the human health effects of combined exposure to radiation and toxic chemicals.

The letter is also being sent to key members of Congress with a cover letter asking them to hold federal agencies accountable for radiation exposure standard-setting processes. It is also being sent to presidential candidates to ask what they will do if elected to protect the most vulnerable from harm from radiation exposure.

The letter to President Bush and other documentation are available online at