Effects of Airport Radiation on Shipped Semen

As airports across the country and around the world continue to tighten security, there is a growing concern among some researchers that increased irradiation levels for screening luggage and shipped parcels have the potential for damaging shipped semen.

Terry Blanchard, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACT, of Texas A&M University, says that even before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the radiation levels for screening luggage had been increased with even more powerful rays, to be brought into use in the future.

He said the problem is that no one knows for certain whether increased levels of irradiation will damage semen because no research has been conducted.

He said that one study involving irradiation and semen was conducted in England four or five years ago. That study indicated that the levels of radiation used to screen luggage at the time appeared to have no adverse effects on semen and the resulting fetuses and foals. Semen that had been exposed to radiation in that study was used to inseminate mares, he said, and the mares and fetuses were monitored throughout pregnancy. The resulting foals were also studied. The pregnancies and foals were normal.

A research project to study much higher levels of radiation has been proposed at Texas A&M University, but funding has not yet been received. It will be an expensive study, Blanchard said, because all aspects of semen health must be examined, including DNA.

At least two of the companies involved in the commercial shipping of semen have taken steps to protect the semen transported in their containers.  They are Hamilton Research of Massachusetts and Plastilite Corporation of Omaha, Neb.

Hamilton Research ships semen in a popular container known as Equitainer. Meg Hamilton of Hamilton Research says that the level of radiation used on the exterior of parcels now being shipped by air, including Equitainers, has been increased to 600 times greater than that which is used for carry-on luggage. X ray units with that capability will be in place at all U.S. airports by Dec. 31, 2002, she said. Equitainers are equipped with a lead shield that encompasses the interior of the container. Hamilton said the shield reduces even the new higher levels of radiation reaching the semen inside, to the level of that which is considered safe for pregnant women.

Plastilite Corporation has one type of shipping container where the vial containing the semen is enclosed in a lead foil bag that would fend off at least some of the rays. A problem could arise, he said, if the airport scanner became suspicious and opened the lead foil bag and then exposed the container within to radiation.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at www.exclusivelyequine.com or by calling 800/582-5604.

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