Experts Sound Off: How Will Radiation Burns Affect Japan Plant Workers?

Medical experts sound off on the effects of radiation injuries.

ByABC News
March 24, 2011, 5:06 PM

March 24, 2011— -- Three Japanese ground workers laboring to contain the nuclear reactors in Fukushima were rushed to the hospital with radiation burns after irradiated water that escaped from the plant's number 3 reactor seeped through the workers' protective gear.

Following reports of the workers' injuries, nearly a dozen experts on radiation exposure responded to a few questions by the ABC News' Medical Unit on the growing elements of radiation danger to workers on the ground in Fukushima.

Physical burns may not be the only hazard for the workers who came in contact with contaminated water, experts said.

"The concern is if we can determine the whole body [radiation] dose to the workers based upon the skin injuries," said Dr. William Blackstock, chair of radiation oncology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"Knowing the whole body dose can help the medical staff anticipate and hopefully manage [potential effects of the radiation]."

Some reports of radiation injuries may not necessarily be radiation burns, according to Dr. Roger Macklis, chair of the department of radiation oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. Some of the burns experienced by some of the workers may be conventional heat burns that have been exposed to low levels of radiation, Macklis said.

Experts said a radiation burn is treated just the same as a conventional burn.

"The burns should be covered by a clean, dry dressing as soon as possible to prevent infection," said Dr. Itzhak Brook, professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.