The average person would be shocked to learn how much low level radioactivity they are exposed to each and every day. Source contamination can be found in the home, at work, even strolling through the park. It's coming at you from every conceivable direction, in varying intensities and types. Even so, because it's detectable only with a Geiger counter, few people ever think about it, assuming what they can't see, can't hurt them. However, nothing could be further from the truth. There are real risks with environmental radioactivity, even at low levels, so it would be a good idea to learn all you can about low level radiation to protect yourself from its dangerous effects.
Here are 6 interesting facts that might help raise your awareness about low level exposure.
1. While the type of radiation that can cause damage, also known as ionizing radiation, is similar to visible light, there's one important difference. Light can be easily shielded. One the other hand, some forms of ionizing radiation such as gamma rays are very difficult to block, requiring lead plate or many inches of concrete. When such powerful subatomic particles penetrate human tissue the resulting impact of the nuclear particles can cause significant damage on a biomolecular level, with the potential to cause several unpredictable and highly unpleasant health effects.
2. Radiation cannot be detected without the use of special devices that measure radiation. Therefore, you and your family could be suffering from the effects of radiation right now, and you would never know it until it was too late. Less than 0.02% of the U.S. population ever measure the radiation their bodies are exposed to. The simplest way to measure is with a dosimeter or film badge, however most people use a Geiger counter, which records dosage intensity.
3. There are numerous types and sources for low level radiation contamination, but the interesting part is that most sources are naturally occuring, such as underground gas emissions, cosmic rays from space and radioactive particulate matter from soil and rocks. Radon is a a good example of a naturally occurring radioactive gas, formed from the decay of radium, and absorbed by humans. It gets into buildings and structures through cracks in basement floors and walls. Recently radon gas has been measured emanating from granite countertops - Geiger counters can measure such radioactivity embedded within the stone, and at a very low level.
4. You may be surprised to learn that at one time not that long ago, most houses contained some type of ionizing radiation. In the early 20th century, prior to the realization that radiation was a danger, radiation was considered new and powerful. Radioactive materials were used in face creams, mineral water and medicines. Of course, now you will not find radiation in your drinking water, although you may still find it in other common household items, such as spark plugs, watches and smoke detectors.
5. Radiation is all around us, from nuclear plant leakage to the food we eat. However, people do not realize that there are growing stockpiles of low-level radioactive wastes that are being put somewhere and that “somewhere” is in our environment. Nuclear power plants create these wastes by splitting uranium atoms to make electricity, medical labs and hospitals create wastes for diagnosis and therapy. There is depleted uranium waste produced from spent munitions. Old nuclear plants are decommissioned and they sometimes become a part of the scrap metal reclamation stream.
6. Radiation can cause some serious health effects. This is because ionizing radiation interferes directly with cell division. Any disruption of normal cellular DNA can lead to cancer. Ironically, radiation will also kill cancer cells, which are by definition a DNA mutation, either genetically, chemically, or physically induced. The health effects a person can experience depends on how much radiation has been exposed to their body. With low level radiation, it is accumulated dosage that's the problem. Any person exposed to radiation has the increased risk of developing hypertension, stroke, diabetes, heart disease and renal disease. Radiation can also effect the bone marrow, embryonic tissue and lymphoid tissue cells, testes and ovaries, resulting in male/female sterility and stillbirth.
Whether you are working in a nuclear power plant or just someone with a workshp in your basement, you are likely being exposed to some form of ionizing radiation. It's up to you to protect yourself and your family from the dangers of this silent killer. Do not trust that an location (work/home) or product (food especially) is simply ok. If you have any reason to suspect a problem, buy a Geiger counter and check the radiation levels in your place of employment, in your neighborhood, and especially in the place you most need to be safe – your home.