"35 and Counting" {Cover Story, Dec. 1} is really going too far! Healthy, involved women of 35 shouldn't be, and I suspect aren't, thinking about menopause. Although women's issues are endlessly fascinating (especially to women), focusing on each five-year segment as a time for some sort of treatment is obsessive and unnecessary. li 2Tish Gardiner Washington

I was appalled at the illustration. To depict a woman between 35 and 50 as looking forlornly at two eggs in a basket while behind her is a trail of broken eggs is not only tasteless but an insult to woman of all ages. We rear our children to be respectful of women, of bodily processes and health concerns in general. Your cover negates these values.

If you felt it necessary to demean and mock women in this way, why not give equal treatment to men? You could draw a man between 35 and 50 with thinning hair, pot belly, sagging muscles and looking down at a limp penis. You could call it: "35 and Declining." Joan Marie Rooks Washington

'Safe' Radiation Levels

I am concerned that Robin Herman's article, "Europeans Debate Food Radiation Limit" {Environmental Health, Nov. 3}, gives a false impression that a 500 millirem dose of cumulative radiation over a year's time, received in contaminated food, constitutes a safe dose. Leaving aside arguments of whether low-level exposure is as damaging as high-level, and the question of internal versus external sources of contamination, use of 500 millirems, or 0.5 rem, as safe ignores other sources of radiation exposure, such as medical X-rays and naturally occurring radiation encountered in the environment by everyone.

After the Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombings, scientists followed victims of radiation exposure, accumulating a large body of evidence about the damaging effects of very low doses. For example, it has been determined that in Hiroshima the incidence of chronic myeloid leukemia increased even in those exposed to 20 rads (the rem and rad are similar), or 0.02 rem. The incidence of female breast cancer also increased among women ages 10 to 19 as a result of exposure to the atomic bombings when exposed to at least 100 rads (0.1 rem).

Having studied this problem for many years, I am constantly impressed by the tendency to downgrade damage from low-level exposure, and a sort of uncalled for optimism about what constitutes "safe" radiation exposure. As the National Academy of Science states, there is no safe level of radiation exposure, since radiation causes damage to cells even at low dosage and is cumulative over the years.

While I read with interest any articles about Chernobyl, I don't think the public is well served when casual mention of a 500 millirem dose of annual radiation exposure from food is considered safe by the International Commission on Radiological Protection without a more thorough explanation of what this decision really means. In my mind, it means the authorities want the public to "feel safe" about existing levels of exposure even when there is evidence that they should not. Gloria White McNally, PhD Washington

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