1. If I become pregnant, am I required to inform my employer?
No, it is your choice whether to declare your pregnancy to your employer. If you choose to declare your pregnancy, a lower radiation dose limit will apply to you. If you choose not to declare your pregnancy, you will continue to be subject to the same radiation dose limits that apply to non-pregnant workers, even if visibly pregnant.
2. If I inform my employer in writing of my pregnancy, what happens?
Your allowable radiation dose limit will be more restrictive. The radiation dose limit for a worker is 5 rems in a year. But if you declare in writing that you are pregnant, the dose to the embryo / fetus will be limited to 0.5 rem during the 9-month pregnancy. In addition, management must make efforts to avoid substantial variation above a uniform monthly dose rate so that all the dose received does not occur during a particular time of the pregnancy. This may mean that, if you declare your pregnancy, you may not be permitted to perform some of your normal job functions and you may not be able to have emergency response responsibilities.
3. Why is there a lower dose limit for a pregnant woman?
The purpose of the lower radiation dose limit is to protect the unborn child. Scientific advisory groups recommend that the dose before birth be limited to about 0.5 rem rather than the 5 rem occupational annual dose limit because of the sensitivity of the embryo / fetus to radiation. Possible effects include deficiencies in the child's development, especially the child's neurological development, and an increase in the likelihood of cancer.
4. What effects on development can be caused by radiation exposure?
The effects of large doses of radiation on human development are quite evident and easily measurable, whereas at low doses the effects are not evident or measurable and therefore must be inferred. For example, studies of the effects of radiation on animals and humans demonstrate clearly and conclusively that large doses of radiation, such as 100 rems can cause serious developmental defects in many of the body's organs when the radiation is delivered during the period of rapid organ development.
The developing human brain has been shown to be especially sensitive to radiation. Mental retardation has been observed in the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan exposed in utero during sensitive periods. Additionally, some other groups exposed to radiation in utero have shown lower than average intelligence scores and poor performance in school. The most sensitive period is during the 8th to 15th weeks of pregnancy followed by a substantially less sensitive period. There is no known effect on the child's developing brain during the first two months of pregnancy or the last three months of pregnancy.
No developmental effects caused by radiation have been observed at doses below the 5 rem occupational dose limit. Scientists are uncertain whether there are developmental effects at such doses. It may be that the effects are present but are too small to measure because of the normal variability among individuals and because the tools to measure the effects are not sensitive enough. Or, maybe no developmental effects appear below some specific threshold dose. In view of the possibility of developmental effects, however slight, at doses below 5 rems, scientific advisory groups consider it prudent to limit the dose to the embryo / fetus to 0.5 rem.
5. How much will the likelihood of cancer be increased?
Radiation exposure has been found to increase the likelihood of cancer. At doses below the occupational dose limit, an increase in cancer incidence has not been proven, but is presumed to exist even if it is too small to be measured. The question here is whether the embryo / fetus is more sensitive to radiation than an adult. While the evidence for increased sensitivity of the embryo / fetus to cancer induction from radiation exposure is inconclusive, it is prudent to assume that there may be some increased sensitivity. Assuming that radiation exposure before birth may be 2 or 3 times more likely to cause cancer over a person's lifetime than the same amount of radiation received as an adult, a maximum exposure of 0.5 rem to the developing fetus / embryo would result in a 0.05 % increase in the risk of death from cancer..
6. How does the risk of radiation exposure to the embryo / fetus compare to other risks?
The risk to the embryo / fetus from 0.5 rem or even 5 rems of radiation exposure is relatively small compared to some other avoidable risks. Consumption of alcohol during pregnancy can cause mental retardation, decreased attention span, delayed reaction times, and lower IQs. It can also lead to developmental problems including low birth weight, language difficulties, and delayed maturation. Cigarette smoking during pregnancy may lead to spontaneous abortion and fetal death as well as impaired intellectual and physical growth. Other toxic agents and drugs also pose a risk to the fetus / embryo. There are also increased risks in pregnancy with increasing maternal age and also related to the general health of the mother. In addition, many birth defects and developmental problems have no known cause and happen without any identifiable risk factors.
7. What will happen if I decide that I do not want any radiation exposure at all during my pregnancy?
You may ask your employer for a job that does not involve any exposure to occupational radiation at all, but your employer may not have such a position or may not be willing to provide you with a job involving no radiation exposure. Even if you receive no occupational exposure at all, you will probably receive about 0.3 rems from unavoidable natural background radiation.
8. What effect will formally declaring my pregnancy have on my job status?
It is most likely that your employer will tell you that you can continue to perform your job with no changes and still meet the NRC's limit for exposure to declared pregnant women. If the dose you currently receive is above the 0.5 rem dose allowed for a declared pregnant woman, it is quite likely that your employer can and will make a reasonable accommodation that will allow you to continue performing your current job, for example, by having another qualified employee perform a small part of the job that accounts for much of the radiation exposure.
However, it is possible, though unlikely, that your employer will conclude that no reasonable accommodation can be made without undue hardship that would allow you to do your job and remain within the dose limits for a declared pregnant woman. If your employer concludes that you must be removed from your current job in order to comply with the lower dose limits for declared pregnant women, you may be concerned about what will happen to you and your job. You should talk to your employer about your concerns and your particular situation.