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Children's responses to a nuclear waste disaster: PTSD symptoms and outcome prediction.

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  • 1Mount Saint Mary's College, Emmitsburg, MD 21727, USA.



To examine the psychological impact of living near a nuclear waste disaster that involved ongoing threat of radioactive contamination.


Participants were an exposed sample (residence within a 5-mile radius of the nuclear plant) of 120 children (7-15 years old) and their parents and a nonexposed comparison sample of 60 children and their parents. Parent and self-ratings of the children's psychological functioning and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms were obtained, along with cognitive variables.


Minimal differences between the 2 samples were found. In the exposed sample, stress responses for the child self-reports showed several age group by gender interactions. Girls' PTSD symptoms tended to increase with age while boys' symptoms decreased, with intrusion showing the strongest effects. While child and parent PTSD symptom ratings were correlated, children reported approximately twice as many symptoms. Cognitive understanding increased with age and was greater in boys. Exposure and parent functioning significantly predicted outcome.


Age and gender effects after disaster might best be explored as an interaction. While disaster effects were mild, the psychological health of the parents may be an important determinant of psychological health in children in this type of disaster.

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