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Your Environment. Your Health.

Uranium Exposure Linked with Lupus

Susan Pinney, Ph.D.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
NIEHS grant P30ES006096

Researchers, funded in part by NIEHS, report a link between uranium exposure and systemic lupus erythematosus in people living near a former uranium processing facility. The study offers insight into the types of environmental exposures that may contribute to lupus.

The researchers studied the Fernald Community Cohort, which consists of people who lived near a uranium ore processing plant in Fernald, Ohio, while it was operating. The Fernald Community Cohort was monitored for 18 years, providing an ideal group for studying environmental exposures to uranium. The study included 4,187 people with background uranium exposure, 1,273 with moderate exposure, and 2,756 with higher exposure. Anyone who worked at the plant was excluded.

The investigators found a nearly four-fold increase in odds of lupus in people with the highest levels of uranium exposure (OR 3.92, 95% CI 1.131-13.588, p = 0.031) compared to people with minimal exposure. Twelve of the 25 systemic lupus erythematosus cases identified came from the higher exposure group. The researchers say that the relationship between high uranium exposure and lupus may come from possible autoimmune, estrogenic, or epigenetic effects of uranium, acquired mutations, or an unidentified accompanying exposure.

Citation: Lu-Fritts PY, Kottyan LC, James JA, Xie C, Buckholz JM, Pinney SM, Harley JB. 2014. Systemic lupus erythematosus is associated with uranium exposure in a community living near a uranium processing plant: A nested case-control study. Arthritis Rheumatol. doi: 10.1002/art.38786. [Online 7 August 2014].