What Is Radiation and How to Limit Your Exposure
Every day you are effected by radiation whether from the sun or from man-made sources. It's very important to know what radiation is and how it works to harm life. You also need to know what you can do to limit your exposure to radiation.
Radiation is a form of energy traveling through space(air) as particles or waves. All radiation exists as part of the electromagnetic spectrum. There are two major forms of radiation; non-ionizing and ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation is emitted from things like cell phones, microwave ovens, cordless telephones, satellite, radio towers, and stars like our sun. This type of radiation is potentially dangerous, however in most cases it is low energy radiation and is generally harmless (cell phones, wireless transmitters).
Ionizing radiation typically comes from sources such as our sun, and earthly radioactive materials such as Uranium or Plutonium. This type of radiation is very dangerous and contains high energy.
Types of Ionizing Radiation
- Ultraviolet radiation – The most common source of UV radiation is the sun. Most of this type of radiation is absorbed by our atmosphere and never reaches the earth. This radiation type is partly ionizing and mostly non-ionizing as it sits right on the cusp between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
- Alpha Radiation – Alpha Radiation consists of Alpha Particles or actually a helium-4 particle. These particles are high energy and can do significant damage to cells, however they only travel a few centimeters and generally do not penetrate the skin or cannot pass through a sheet of paper.
- Beta Radiation – These are high energy electrons that can penetrate skin and clothing and depending on their energy level can cause significant damage to tissue and cells. Ingesting these types of emitters is very dangerous and poses a significant health risk.
- Gamma Radiation – Gamma Ray's are extremely dangerous waves that can penetrate everything except thick lead. These types of waves have high energy and are extremely dangerous to all biological life.
- Neutron Radiation – Neutrons (free neutrons) are the only type of particle that can make other substances radioactive. These particles can travel for up to thousands of meters and several meters through common solids. Most of the neutrons produced in the world exist in nuclear reactors.
Why Should You Be Concerned About Radiation?
Radiation (especially ionizing) is harmful & potentially fatal to all life on earth and we should limit our exposure to it when possible. Some radiation exposure is unavoidable and cannot be removed such as our exposure to background radiation from our sun.
However, most of the exposure humans receive from harmful ionizing radiation is not from background radiation sources but rather from man-made sources.
Much of the fallout from the nuclear testing done in the 40's, 50's and 60's is still active and either circulating the globe as airborne contamination or deposited throughout the world in soils and vegetation to be taken up by biological life.
Radiation is much worse than all other forms of environmental contamination. Radioactive substances not only irradiate their environment and harm life in the process but worse they stay radioactive for hundreds to thousands of years and continue to irradiate all throughout their entire lives.
Radioactive contamination is also infinitely more difficult to decontaminate and remove.
How to Limit Your Exposure to Radiation
There are three major ways that we are exposed to harmful ionizing radiation, externally through our skin, internally through inhalation, and internally through ingestion. There is no safe level of radiation exposure no matter what any government agency tells you. (Source)
Every exposure to radiation elevates your risk for cancer including the background radiation you receive from the sun. With that in mind we know we can't avoid the background radiation, however we can avoid accidental exposures to man-made contamination.
There isn't much you can do about direct external exposure to radiation other than avoiding known radioactive sources such as nuclear reactors and fallout sites or other known radiation sources.
As noted above Alpha radiation cannot permeate clothing or skin so our highest risk to external radiation is to high energy gamma, and beta radioactive sources such as Caesium 137 and 134.
Avoiding internal exposure via ingestion and inhalation is not quite as easy, however it is more important as exposure to radiation internally is much more hazardous to our health.
1.) Live as Far Away as Possible
Much of the inhalation exposure people receive is due to their proximity to a radioactive source such as downwind of a nuclear power plant.
The single biggest thing you can do to avoid inhalation exposure to radioactive contaminates is not live downwind or near a nuclear power plant.
Another big exposure that can be mitigated is to naturally occurring Radon through basement walls. Have your house tested for Radon and treated if it is found.
2.) Limit Exposure to Cigarette Smoke
Another major hazard is cigarette smoke either firsthand or second hand which not only contains numerous chemical carcinogens but also contains a radioactive alpha emitter Polonium-210 linked to bronchial carcinoma (lung cancer).
Quitting smoking or reducing exposure to second-hand cigarette smoke can greatly reduce your risk to ionizing radiation. (Source)
3.) Avoid Irradiated Food Sources
Ingestion of radioactive contaminates can come from many sources as most companies and governments do not have very rigorous radiation testing methods and procedures. The biggest exposure risk since the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns is to any food from the Pacific Ocean.
It would be wise to reduce or eliminate consumption of seafood from the Pacific as the contamination levels will not drop but increase due to the ongoing dumping of massive amounts of contaminated water into the pacific at the Fukushima plant.
The best way to reduce your exposure through your food is to know the source of your food and the testing done on it.
Now that we know what radiation is and how it effects us, this will empower us to reduce our exposure to it when possible and live longer happier lives.
In our next article we'll tackle some myths about radiation and more specifically why we should avoid Pacific Ocean seafood now and into the future.
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