To the Editor:

Related Articles
In Russia, the Ill and Infirm Include Health Care Itself (December 4, 2000)
An Ailing Russia Lives a Tough Life That's Getting Shorter (December 3, 2000)
Keep Them Out! (October 7, 2000)
Letters Index

Your Dec. 3 front-page article about the shortening of Russian lives and decline in live births ("An Ailing Russia Lives a Tough Life That's Getting Shorter") did not mention an important factor: the vast fallout of radioisotopes from the Chernobyl accident, which caused damage to cellular, immune and hormonal systems.

The Russian birthrate began falling in 1986, the year of the accident, not when the Soviet Union broke up in 1991. The rise in death rates began in 1986, first affecting infants and then the elderly, as cancer and infectious-disease deaths peaked some six to eight years later.

While the death rate was aggravated by inadequate diet, poor medical care, depression and the resulting rise in smoking and alcohol abuse, the effects of major nuclear and chemical pollution contributed significantly.

Alexandria, Va., Dec. 4, 2000

The writer is an internist and toxicologist.