Hahn, F. F., Romanov, S. A., Guilmette, R. A., Nifatov, A. P., Diel, J. H. and Zaytseva, Y. Plutonium Microdistribution in the Lungs of Mayak Workers. Radiat. Res. 161, 568– 581 (2004).
The degree of nonuniform distribution of plutonium in the human lung has not been determined; thus current dosimetric models do not account for nonuniform irradiation. A better scientific basis is needed for assessing the risk of developing radiation-induced disease from inhaled α-particle-emitting radionuclides. We measured the distribution of plutonium activity in the lung by autoradiography and related the activity to specific compartments of the lung. The study materials were lung specimens from deceased workers employed by the Mayak Production Association. The approach to analyzing these lung samples used contemporary stereological sampling and analysis techniques together with quantitative α-particle autoradiography. For the first time, plutonium distribution has been quantified in the human lung. The distribution of long-term retained plutonium is nonuniform, and a significant portion of plutonium was retained in pulmonary scars. In addition, a large fraction of plutonium was present in the parenchyma, where it was retained much longer than was estimated previously. The sequestration of plutonium particles in scars would greatly reduce the radiation exposure of the critical target cells and tissues for lung cancer. Thus the prolonged retention of plutonium in lung scars may not increase the dose or risk for lung cancer.