The Radiation Post



What is Radioactive Decay?

The majority of the elements in the periodic table are “stable,” and non-radioactive. Some, however, are unstable and experience a process called radioactive decay, during which they emanate ionizing radiation.

Unlike other forms of radiation, ionizing radiation is harmful to the human body because it alters our DNA. Longterm and/or overexposure to ionizing radiation can make you sick, cause intense burns, cause cancer, and has additional negative, long-term side effects.

Radioactive Decay Ultimately Makes Unstable Elements Stable

One definition of radioactive decay could be, “the emission of energy in the form of ionizing radiation.” But what is this energy – and how is it “energized?”

First, you have to understand a bit more about the periodic table. Most images of the periodic table are color-coded based on the ways individual elements are categorized into groups. One of the most basic of these groupins is:

  • Inert gases
  • Metals
  • Non-Metals

You could also divide the elements into two categories:

  • Stable
  • Unstable

Since the majority of the 118 elements found on the current periodic table are considered “stable,” it also means these elements’ nuclei have strong enough bonds to hold themselves permanently together. However, there are 15 elements found in nature that are considered unstable all on their own. Then there are other elements that become unstable via various chemical processes, and that adds about 22 more to the mix. Altogether, the current periodic table shows 37 elements as being radioactive.

The elements’ instability is caused by loose bonds in their nuclei, so the elements continue to “decay,” or lose some of their energy, to achieve a stable, tightly-bound nucleus.

When an element emits ionizing radiation in its efforts to become stable, it is referred to as a radionuclide.

As radionuclides decay, they continue transforming into radioactive variations of themselves, until they finally become stable (and safe again). This process of radioactive decay can happen in a single step, or it can take place over and over again for multiple steps. If radioactive decay occurs multiple times over, the process is referred to as a decay chain.

For example, here is a diagram depicting the decay chain for the very unstable, and radioactive radionuclide, U(ranium)-238, and all of the unstable radionuclides in the decay process until it becomes PB-(Lead)-206, where it’s stable again.

Protect Yourself From Radionuclides

If you work in a lab, weapons manufacturing plant, or anywhere that stable elements are intentionally altered to become radioactive, your company has a Radiation Safety Plan of some sort in place. Similarly, anyone working in another version of a radioactive career will be provided with the education and protective products required to keep them safe.

However, some of us are exposed to radioactive decay in our everyday lives, and this requires awareness and proactive action to keep yourself safe. Ultimately, radiation sickness occurs when you are exposed to large doses of radiation all at once, like a nuclear plant meltdown or nuclear weapons detonation. Or, it can happen via small doses of ionizing radiation over a long period of time. Read, Know Your Radiation Exposure Limits, to learn more about that.

Slow, long-term exposure is the most common way most of us would be affected by radioactive decay. For example, radon is one of those 15, previously mentioned elements that are radioactive and found in Mother Nature. It is part of the earth’s crust and depending on where you live, your home can have higher-than-normal levels of radon toxicity, which is a threat to your health.

In our post about radiation doses in our daily lives, we mentioned that radon, “Radon is a radioactive gas that can is sucked into your home through the soil via cracks, structural holes, and decaying structural materials. Without proper ventilation, this gas gets trapped. Radon may also be present in water that you swallow or dust particles that you inhale.”

You can Click Here to view the CDC’s Radon Zone Map. However, we recommend having your home tested to be on the safe side. The tests are inexpensive and you can “fix” it if levels are above the recommended guidelines of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.

Being aware of where you live and its radioactive exposure from geographical, environmental, and industrial sources is the best thing you can do to protect yourself. Protection from harmful ionizing radiation via radioactive decay can be as simple as doing what it takes to “clean it up,” or as serious as moving elsewhere to minimize your family’s risk.

If you are concerned about radioactive decay and whether or not you’re at risk, visit the EPA’s website on Radiation Protection to learn more on the subject.

Lancs Industries is dedicated to creating effective and reasonably priced radiation shielding and containment products to increase the safety of workers in potentially hazardous environments. We’re working to create a safer and healthier world.



UV Radiation: What You Need to Know

There is no way to avoid sources of radiation if you live on planet earth. From the ultra-violet (UV) radiation we’re exposed to from the sun to cosmic, micro- and other forms of radiation – we encounter small and manageable radioactive doses as a part of daily life.

Fortunately, a little education and some basic, routine precautions will protect you from any harmful effects of UV radiation – including cancer – so you can enjoy the health benefits of the great outdoors without worry or stress.

What is UV Radiation?

While sun beds and tanning salons produce manufactured UV light, the large majority of UV radiation we encounter comes to us via sunlight. While they make up only a very small amount of the sun’s rays, UV rays do the most damage to unprotected human skin. In fact, their radiation exposure is considered ionizing, meaning it negatively alters our skin cells’ DNA.

UV rays are divided into three main categories:

  1. UVA Rays: Typically, UVA rays are the ones that contribute most to skin cell damage that leads to aging – i.e. wrinkles and minor sun spotting. Experts also think that intense exposure – like the larger-than-sun-power doses of UVA encountered at tanning beds – put you at higher risk for skin cancer.
  2. UVB Rays: These rays have more energy than UVA rays. The damage the skin cells via direct contact, so you can blame the UVBs the next time you get a nasty sunburn. Overtime, repeat skin cell damage affects the DNA, which damages the genes that guide healthy cell regeneration, and this causes skin cancer. For some, just a few bad sunburns as a child can lead to skin cancer as an adult.
  3. UVC Rays: These are a non-entity for us because although they have more energy than the other two, they are a source of cosmic radiation that is filtered from our planet’s surface by the atmosphere.

Most medical professionals agree that there is no such thing as a “safe” UV ray. Therefore, it’s your job to take adequate precautions.

Use the Principles of Radiation Protection to Prevent Skin Cancer

Because UV rays are a form of radiation, the Principles of Radiation Protection are just as relevant to humans outdoors on a sunny day as they are for anyone who works in a radioactive career. The three principles are:

  • It should do more good than harm. Your skin should only be exposed to UV rays when it will do more good than harm. For example, you’re getting outdoors for some exercise and having a good time with yourself, family and friends. On the flip side, if you want to take a nap, you’re better off getting out of the chaise lounge and heading indoors to a couch or bed to minimize exposure.
  • You should limit the amount of time you’re exposed. In most cases, peak sun exposure (UV radiation exposure) is from 10 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Therefore, it’s best to spend time outdoors before or after these peak hours, and to limit the amount of time you’re exposed to the UV rays if you are outdoors during those hours.
  • Try to limit your radiation dose. If you are spending a fair amount of time in the sun, do your best to limit exposure to reasonable doses. While a dosimeter isn’t necessary, you can notably limit your UV radiation dose by covering up with long sleeves and pants, wearing a hat with an ample brim and trying to stay in the shade. Sunscreen and sunglasses are also protective layers against radiation.

Don’t forget that most UV rays can go right through cloud layers, and water and snow can reflect and magnify their effect. Interestingly, cancer isn’t the only problem UV rays cause. Studies show that UV rays increase your risk of developing cataracts and other vision problems, and they can also suppress the immune system.

The team here at Lancs Industries wishes your family a safe, happy and UV protected summer so you minimize your chances of developing skin cancer.



What You Need to Know About Backscatter X-Rays and Safety

The good news for most Americans is that X-ray backscatter scanners are no longer used in airports, and therefore, they are no longer a source of daily radiation for regular travelers. Whether these devices were a threat – and how much of a risk they posed – has yet to be determined. In the meantime, the majority of these questionably risky devices have been removed and replaced with a different type of body scanning technology, one that doesn’t rely on ionizing radiation, called Advanced Image Technology (AIT).

The good news for Americans and other travelers making their way through the security scans at more than 200 airports around the nation, these AIT body scanners are not only safer (they use benign, millimeter wave scanning technology), they are also far less intrusive than their backscatter x-ray counterparts. You can Click Here to view a recent list of all U.S. airports using full-body scanners as part of their security checkpoints.

Is Backscatter X-Ray Technology Harmful?

According to an article by the science gurus at How Stuff Works, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) explains that whole-body scanning devices are essential for airport and flight security because they are able to detect weapons, explosives and other threats potential terrorists are trying to hide on or inside their bodies to activate later on.

After September 11, 2001, Americans and other travelers were understandably concerned about the safety and wellbeing of themselves, other passengers and the nation. As a result, the feds quickly engaged the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, and TSA hurried to install x-ray backscatter machines in the security areas of major airports. The idea was that these units would use “Automated Target Recognition” software to replace the rather accurate anatomical images with more cartoon-like representations that would show any areas of concern (obvious weapons, non-anatomical pieces/parts, etc.), so security personnel could follow-up accordingly.

Instead, the public went up in arms – largely due to the fact most Americans and international travelers felt these images were still a large violation of privacy. More importantly, many were concerned there simply wasn’t enough data to support the risk/benefits of the operation – most notably because like other forms of x-ray technology, backscatter x-ray machines exposed humans to low-doses of ionizing radiation.

As Wikipedia points out:
“…the energy being emitted by a backscatter X-ray is a type of ionizing radiation that breaks chemical bonds. Ionizing radiation is considered carcinogenic even in very small doses but at the doses used in airport scanners this effect is believed to be negligible for an individual. If one-million people were exposed to 520 scans in one year, one study estimated that roughly four additional cancers would occur due to the scanner, in contrast to the 600 additional cancers that would occur from the higher levels of radiation during flight.”

As the result of widespread findings like these, and reports, speeches and letters written by scientists and medical experts in the field, backscatter x-ray machines came quickly under suspicion. They were banned by the European Union in 2012, which furthered resistance here in the U.S. In May of 2013, the original versions of backscatter x-ray machines were removed. Some have been replaced by AIT or millimeter wave scanning devices, but the 25 largest US airports still rely on newer, “more improved,” backscatter x-ray technology for some of their security scanners.

Difference Between Backscatter X-Ray Scanners and Millimeter Wave Scanners

AIT or millimeter waver scanners work slightly differently from x-rays in that the waves work similarly to microwaves. Unlike x-rays, which penetrate and move through the entire human body, millimeter wave (mmw) scanners use waves that are similar to microwaves, a non-iodizing source or radiation. These microwaves waves are larger than those emitted by x-ray backscatter machines, so they are less able to negatively impact smaller human proteins and DNA.

Here is a description from the folks at How Stuff Works on the difference between x-ray and mmw technology:

Backscatter x-ray machines:

“Backscatter machines use rotating collimators to generate X-rays, which pass through a slit and strike a passenger standing inside. The X-rays penetrate clothing, bounce off the person’s skin and return to detectors mounted on the machine’s surface. The radiation also bounces off weapons, explosives or other threats concealed in clothing or lying against the skin. By sensing and analyzing this so-called backscatter, the machine is able to create an image of a person, as well as any organic or inorganic items carried on that person.”

Millimeter wave scanning machine (AIT):

“Millimeter wave scanners use small, disc-like transmitters to make an image. Each transmitter emits a pulse of energy, which travels as a wave to a person standing in the machine, passes through the person’s clothes, reflects off the person’s skin or concealed solid and liquid objects and then travels back, where the transmitter, now acting like a receiver, detects the signal. One disc would only scan a small portion of the test subject, so a single machine contains two stacks of discs connected by a bar that pivots around a central point. Because there are several transmitter/receiver discs stacked vertically and because these stacks rotate around the person, the device can form a complete picture, from head to toe and front to back.”

In terms of safety, experts agree that AIT scanners are preferred. However, in terms of efficacy, backscatter x-ray machines are less likely to provide false results than their AIT, millimeter wave scanning counterparts. Even so, we feel false reports – which result in TSA personnel performing more in-depth body scans – are worth the risk.

You Have the Right to Refuse Full-Body Scanning in the US

If you aren’t convinced, or prefer not to take any risk, you have the right to refuse full-body scans at airports. If you choose to opt-out, we recommend adding another 10 to 15 minutes to your airport security process to accommodate the extra steps required. When you get to the security area and are ready to line up for the scan, let the TSA personnel know you’re opting out.

They will divert you from the line-up of those entering the scanner, and will call for a same-gendered TSA employee to provide a personal scan. You’ll walk through the standard metal detector, after which they’ll perform a respectful pat down of your entire body. The process takes no more than five- to 10-minutes (once the assigned TSA employee is able to perform the check), and then you can grab your bags and be on your way.

The team here at Lancs Industries wishes you a safe and healthy summer travel season. While our radiation shielding products aren’t allowed to be worn in x-ray backscatter or millimeter wave scanning machines, they are recommended for use in most industrial applications where radiation exposure is a risk. Contact us to learn more.



Scatter Radiation Safety and Protection

All humans experience radiation exposure daily due to sunlight, radio, and microwaves, our smartphones, and even the foods we eat. Fortunately, the minimal amounts of radiation absorbed via these sources pose no real threat to our wellbeing.

For those who work in the diagnostic and therapeutic fields, or for patients whose medical conditions require frequent radiation exposure via diagnostic/treatment tools (such as x-rays or cancer treatment radiation), there are increased health and safety risks.

Scatter Radiation Safety and Protection

What is Scatter Radiation?

Scatter radiation is a secondary form of radiation. Just as sunlight can bounce off walls and reflective surfaces, radioactive particles “bounce” or scatter when they run into physical objects, including patients. Thus, medical professionals, like radiologists using x-ray technology, as well as the patient who receives the x-ray, and others are at risk of absorbing scatter radiation that bounces off the walls, ceilings, chairs – or even within or on the patient’s body. In fact, in most hospital and dental practice environments, the patients themselves are the largest source of scatter radiation since the x-ray is directed right at their body.

This is why you are covered with a lead blanket of some kind, and why the medical technicians or physicians walk away from the space, and behind some type of radiation-resistant barrier, while capturing the image or during radiation treatments. These radiation shielding products are designed to absorb the radiation, minimizing the scatter radiation you and s/he are exposed to.

As with other forms of radiation, the negative effects of scatter radiation depend wholly on:

  • The time of exposure
  • The distance from the radiation source
  • Shielding from radiation

Hence, applying the principles of radiation protection in any setting where scatter radiation is present goes a long way in keeping everyone healthy and safe.

“Lead Glasses Are Not Enough…”

In a March 2019 article posted in MedPage Today, Reporter Nicole Lou posted an article about a recent study’s findings that, “Lead glasses may be providing a false sense of security to the interventionist (x-ray or fluoroscopic radiation technician),” because scattered radiation comes at the human body from all directions. Thus, the protective lead glasses offer direct shielding from a particular angle but leaves the exposed angles of the eye area, cheeks, and forehead vulnerable.

This example is one of many we can share from the medical world and demonstrates how important it is that each department evaluate its structural footprint, the furnishings in the room, the safety program currently in place and whether or not changes or improvements are possible to enhance the safety of patients, clients, and staff.

A continuing and developing awareness of which parts of the body are covered or shielded, and what is left exposed, poses important considerations to those in the medical environment and other careers that place employees and team members in direct contact with radiation or radioactive materials.

Pair Comfort and Safety for Employees and Patients

Lead blankets are heavy, and that makes them both cumbersome and less comfortable for both employees and patients. So, while full lead blankets are the cost-savings norm, companies and medical administrators may find that spending a bit more on lighter, more eco-friendly options increases patient and employee satisfaction, without compromising safety. Examples include TL light (20% lighter than full lead and 100% recyclable) or Non-leaded options (25% lighter than full lead, flexible, and environmentally friendly).

For those working in the emerging field of C-Arm fluoroscopy, studies show that the best equipment for protecting attending physicians include:

  • Being as far from the source of radiation as physically possible while still getting the job done
  • Implementing
  • Lead or similar shielding aprons
  • Thyroid shields
  • Lead glasses
  • Lead barriers

These same, mindful and thorough tenets of protection of should be provided for the patient and any family, medical personnel, or staff in the vicinity.

Is your medical practice or place of business doing all it can to educate your employees about scatter radiation and providing the necessary means of radiation shielding and protection?

Lancs Industries has decades of radiation shielding experience, and we’re happy to work with you to make sure you have everything you need for ALARA compliance and to keep your company Safe with a capital “S.” Contact us to learn more about our radiation shielding products, or to design custom products or equipment that meet the demands of your workplace.



Radiation Doses in Our Daily Lives

The good news is that the majority of us live with minimal contact to non-ionizing (meaning non-harmful radiation) on a daily basis as the result of filtered radio waves, UV light and solar activity as well as cosmic radiation that is mostly filtered by the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, everything from medical x-rays and radiation-based cancer treatment, to some mining procedures, weapons testing/manufacturing and other man-made (or man intervened) practices put some of us at higher risk for harmful radiation exposure than others.

radiation doses in our daily lives.

What is the Difference Between Harmful & Non-Harmful Radiation Exposure?

The first thing to know is that not all radiation is harmful. Some forms of radiation, such as power lines, low-frequency microwaves and infrared waves are everday sources of radiation, but in their low-frequency forms, they are harmless. Even your cell phone puts you at risk for low-frequency radiation exposure.

Other forms of radiation, such as x-rays, atomic weapons energy, and many radioactive elements are considered ionizing. These are harmful because they actually irreversibly alter the DNA blueprints in your cells. Ionizing radiation sources are kind you want to be wary of, especially if you have a job or career that puts you at risk for elevated radiation exposure.

Most of us don’t have to worry about ionizing forms of radiation in our everyday lives because we don’t work in outer space or closer to the boundaries of earth’s atmosphere. However, nuclear events such as the Fukishima nuclear meltdown, following the 2011 tsunami, do place these everyday risks closer to home. And then, there are lots of things that expose us to low doses – that can all add up to higher doses if you aren’t paying attention.

Most radiation doses in our daily lives are too low to worry about

The good news is that most of the radiation doses we get in our daily lives are too low to worry about. We’ve already written about radioactive exposure from some everyday products – like microwaves and cell phones.

Here are some other common sources of radiation:

Fukishima fallout

When a nuclear meltdown or war occurs, the resulting radiation exposure is referred to as nuclear or radioactive fallout. In the case of Fukushima and our west coast, nuclear fallout is a reality. Everything from wine to seafood has shown elevated levels of radiation as a result of that disaster. However, experts agree that the effect on U.S. residents is still minimal and nothing to worry about, “The radiation from Japan is equivalent to an increase of 0.1 millirem (mrem) per year in background radiation, Arizona officials estimate; that’s just a fraction of the 620 mrem the average American gets each year.”

Drinking water

Radioactive materials are ultimately sourced from the earth. So, it makes sense that most drinking water has very low-traces of radioactivity.

In rural areas, this is the result of fresh water picking up natural radioactive isotopes from the rocks and soil it passes by in streams and rivers; in urban environments, radioactive contamination may be higher if industrial plants aren’t taking careful precautions, and bodies of water near nuclear facilities are also at risk. Fortunately, the FDA monitors these locations carefully.

Soil

Those who love to spend time outside, especially famers and gardeners, may be surprised to learn that the soil they work with exposes them to 35 mrems of radiation per year (again, just a wee fraction of the total, average dose of mrems we’re exposed to each year).

Fruits & veggies (and other foods)

The next time someone tells you to eat more fruits and veggies, tell them, “are you kidding? Most of them are radioactive!” It’s true; check out this list of radioactive foods from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC), which lists bananas, carrots, white potatoes, lima beans, Brazil nuts, red meat and even beer.

The good news is that outside of fallout or other potential contamination, these radioactive doses are the result of Mother Nature. As the NRC states, “All organic matter (both plant and animal) contains some small amount of radiation from radioactive potassium-40 (40K), radium-226 (226Ra), and other isotopes. In addition, all water on Earth contains small amounts of dissolved uranium and thorium. As a result, the average person receives an average internal dose of about 30 millirem of these materials per year from the food and water that we eat and drink…”

So, you really should eat those fruits and veggies after all.

Radon in your home

Radon is considered a “creeper” because – like carbon monoxide – it’s odorless. Radon is a radioactive gas that can is sucked into your home through the soil via cracks, structural holes and decaying structural materials. Without proper ventilation, this gas gets trapped. Radon may also be present in water that you swallow or dust particles that you inhale.

Most people don’t know that after smoking, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Some area of the countries have more radon than others. Click Here to view the CDC’s map of Radon Zones. Fortunately, there are things you can do to detect radon in your home, and to prevent your home from trapping radon gases. Read the CDC’s page, Radon in the Home, to learn more.

Being aware, staying on top of the news, and avoiding situations that put you at risk for elevated levels of radiation exposure are the best ways to keep you and your family safe. Interested in learning more about everyday protection from radiation exposure? Contact us here at Lancs and we can provide basic radiation protection for potential emergencies.



What Are the Three Principles of Radiation Protection

While the three principles of radiation protection grew largely out of the increased use of radioactive medical equipment, such as x-rays, CT and PET-CT scans, they are applicable to any career or industry in which employees or members of the public are exposed to radiation.

Multiple careers put employees at risk for radiation, such as industrial applications, mining, weapons manufacturing and the airline industry. However, radiation experts agree that, “…radiation doses from medical exposure are now the largest source of man-made radiation exposure.”

If you work in a career that poses a risk of radiation exposure, it’s essential that you learn and adhere to three, key principles.

The Three Principles of Radiation Protection

Also called the three principles of radiation safety, these three principles are a more specific implantation of a broader radiation safety paradigm referred to as ALARA – (As Low as Reasonably Achievable).

1. Justification

The first of these principles is that no human should be exposed to doses of radiation – in the workplace or otherwise – unless it is going to do more harm than good. This includes:

  • Any time a new source of radiation is discovered, used, or implemented
  • Any time a new activity arises that puts people at risk via their occupation (as is the case for pilots or astronauts)
  • The use of those sources are proven to be of reasonable benefit for the individual (as is the case where x-rays, CT and PET-CT equipment is used) or for society as a whole

It is also assumed that these sources or activities will be under continuous monitoring, studying, evaluation and analysis such that significant new findings could alter their course of progress or require the addition of new, revised and improved safety procedures and precautions.

1A. Time

For the medical industry, the first principle most employees will learn is Time of Exposure. Thus, we’re including it here as 1A. In every case of radiation exposure in the work place, the goal is to minimize the time an employee, patient or bystander is exposed to radiation. By minimizing the amount of time an individual is exposed to radiation, you simultaneously minimize the total radioactive dosage their bodies absorb.

2. Dose limitation

That’s a perfect segue to the second principle of radiation protection: limiting radiation dosage.

The good news about radiation is that it’s measurable via the assistance of a dosimeter. This allows Radiation Safety Officers and individual employees the ability to precisely monitor radiation exposure at any given time.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep doses to a minimum – and never, ever put yourself or others at risk for experiencing exposure limits that exceed federally governed occupational exposure levels.

Read, Know Your Radiation Exposure Limits, for more information on that topic.

Controlling and minimizing occupational radiation exposure is largely done via time constraints (setting specific time limitations on an employee’s ability to work in a certain space or in the field of a specific element or object) and by providing proper, industry recognized radiation protection and shielding.

3. Optimization of protection

Here, industry professionals are looking at how to create a comprehensive outlook on optimizing protection from exposure from every angle.

So, this principle looks at things from a more societal and global perspective, evaluating, “…the likelihood of incurring exposures, the number of people exposed, and the magnitude of their individual doses…” with the knowledge and practice that these should all be kept as low as reasonably achievable.

Need Help Keeping Your Company in Agreement With the 3 Principles of Radiation Protection?

Lancs Industries has helped companies and employees – just like yours – remain in alignment and compliance with current radiation protection policies. We design and manufacture radiation protection and shielding products of all types, and we’re also happy to create custom gear for virtually any application.

Contact us to learn more about what we do and to ensure your employees minimize their overall radiation risk via your company’s valuable safety policies.



What is Cosmic Radiation?

The term cosmic radiation is an umbrella term, encompassing all of the radioactive sources in the universe. Fortunately, here on earth, our atmosphere serves as one of the most powerful radiation shielding and protective products – and it’s free. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to prevent the destruction of the earth’s atmosphere. As the atmosphere decays via elevated carbon emissions and other environmental pollutants, it will shield us less and less from higher-energy cosmic radiation invaders.

Cosmic radiation is considered an ionizing form of radiation, meaning it can potentially alter our DNA. However, the majority of the cosmic radiation we encounter from outer space is absorbed in such very low doses, we aren’t negatively impacted by it. In that way, cosmic radiation is similar to other “everyday” sources of radiation – such as cell phones and microwaves.

Cosmic radiation is a collection of many types of radiation

The following are some of the sources and types of radiation that make their way to us through outer space. Fortunately, as a result of their interaction with the atmosphere (which acts a super-filter), the particles arrive on our planet in a much less potent form. That’s why we aren’t harmed or made ill from them.

Gamma Rays

Gamma rays are (in scientific terms), “a form of electromagnetic radiation” at a higher spectrum and frequency than x-rays. While we can recreate gamma rays or gamma radiation in a lab, the cosmic-sourced forms of gamma rays are created by gamma ray bursts (GRBs). These are the most energetic form of light and produce enough energy that, for a few seconds, they can outshine an entire galaxy.

Microwave background radiation

This is typically what people are talking about when they mention cosmic radiation. According to physlink.com, microwave background radiation, “…consists of very, very low energy photons (energy of about 2.78 Kelvin) whose spectrum is peaked in the microwave region and which are remnants from the time when the universe was only about 200,000 years old.” By the time they reach us, microwave background radiation forms are rendered virtually harmless.

Photons

All of the luminous bodies in the universe emit photons in the forms of particles and waves. This includes our sun (more on that next), stars, quasi-stellar objects and so on. Some of these are much higher-energy than others. For the most part, any photons entering our atmosphere from these luminous objects are so low-energy we don’t have to worry about them.

UV radiation from the sun

For the most part, UV radiation from the sun is the only type of cosmic radiation we earthlings need to worry about. Because of their strength and close proximity to the earth, the UV particles are able to enter the atmosphere at such a high energy that atmospheric interference/protection isn’t quite enough for our naked skin.

Hence, over exposure to UV rays causes sunburns and skin cancers, and those can wind up metastasizing into other forms of cancer. This is why it’s so important to wear protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and/or use sunscreen on exposed areas of your skin when you’re outdoors – particularly during peak seasons and peak hours of the day (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).

Neutrinos, high energy muons, protons, anti-protons, and more

All of the celestial bodies mentioned above, as well as others, also emit a series of other particles throughout their emergence and interactions with one other. These include additional sources of cosmic radiation, including neutrinos, high energy muons, protons, electrons, ant-protons and others.

Fortunately for us, the highest and most energetically charged of these never make it to the earth’s atmosphere or surface. They are either deflected by magnetic fields between their original source and us, they lose energy as they interact with other particles along the way or they simply decay during their long flight.

So, never fear; for now and – hopefully – during your lifetime, cosmic radiation won’t be a concern for you. If, however, you find yourself in a radioactive career or working in an industry that utilizes/exposes you to radioactive sources, contact us here at Lancs Industries so we can provide you with the right radiation shielding and protection.



Is Microwave Radiation Dangerous?

Microwaves have been around since the 1960s, but they have long-suffered from erroneous suspicions that their radioactive mechanisms are harmful.

This is understandable since the word radiation inspires caution and fear for many. However, microwaves operate using non-ionizing radiation. This means it doesn’t harm or scramble cellular DNA, nor does it leave any radioactive residue in your food or the immediate environment that could harm you.

Microwaves use safe, non-ionizing radiation

Microwaves to not use X-rays or gamma-rays to generate heat. Instead, they use a type of radiation (RF radiation) that is powerful enough to move the molecules in a cell around, but not so much that their DNA is altered. Specifically, microwaves move the water molecules around, causing friction. This friction causes water molecules in cells to rub and bang up against each other so fast and so frequently, that it generates heat.

Depending on the strength of the microwaves power setting, and the length of time you leave the food inside an operating microwave, food can be warmed gently, heated to boiling or will cook completely through. Just as you can overcook food, you can over-microwave it too – generating so much heat that the cells begin to break down, and the food can be ruined. Even so, this is not anything that would contribute to radiation sickness or poisoning.

So, the microwave itself isn’t harmful. What you put into the microwave, however, is a different story.

Mind the containers you use in the microwave

First and foremost, you should only use microwave-safe containers when heating or cooking food in a microwave. Anyone who’s ever cheated and put a gold-rimmed china plate in the microwave, or who thought they could save a dish by heating a can of soup inside the can, has learned the hard way after a shower of sparks emitted from the dish/can. This is because metallic ions reflect, rather than absorb, microwaves.

Similarly, many plastics or rubber-based containers that aren’t made for the microwave can warp or melt. This is because they’re made of materials that have a lower melting temperature than the food inside them. If pockets of food get ultra-hot, they can melt the container or plastic-wrapping on top if they aren’t designated as “microwave-safe” products.

Plastics can leach harmful chemicals into your foods and beverages

In fact, while the microwave is completely safe, the plastics you use to contain foods and beverages could be your worst enemy. According to Harvard, certain plastics used to house food and liquids or protect foods and liquids contain chemicals that are harmful – especially when they’re heated and migrate into your microwaved food.

“When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates may leak into the food. Any migration is likely to be greater with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.”

BPAs and phthalates are known endocrine disruptors (they can alter natural hormone levels), and multiple studies have shown that their presence in humans increases the risk of several medical conditions, including cancer and infertility.

If you are worried about the quality, health and safety of microwaved food products, consider:

  • Using glass or bonafide “microwave safe” dishware in the microwave
  • Don’t allow plastic wrap to touch food in containers (even when it’ says microwave safe) to prevent the plastic from melting into the food.
  • Avoid heating foods in take-out or disposable containers. Instead, transfer it into a microwave-safe alternative.
  • Get rid of old, scratched or damaged “microwave safe” plastic containers as the damage may allow them to melt faster or leach chemicals into your food.
  • Always vent containers (by lifting the lid a bit or setting it off center) to prevent the food from becoming hot enough to melt the container/plastic wrap.

Microwaves may be good for you

Rather than worrying about microwaves and radiation, we feel you should celebrate the good news. Current studies indicate that microwaving food may actually be better for you than other heating methods because quicker cooking means better overall preservation of vitamins and nutrients.

“The cooking method that best retains nutrients is one that cooks quickly, heats food for the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible. Microwaving meets those criteria…That keeps in more vitamins and minerals than almost any other cooking method and shows microwave food can indeed be healthy.”

So, use your microwave with confidence and know that to date, there is no evidence that microwave radiation is dangerous for you as long as you use the appliance as per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Continue to visit the Lancs Industries Blog to learn more about radiation and your health, along with the radiation shielding products that will protect you when and if you’re exposed to harmful, ionizing radiation or radioactive materials.



Disposing of Radioactive Waste

Ideally, any industry, university lab, manufacturing plant, medical facility or nuclear power plant should have a Radiation Safety Officer and established safety plan for disposing of radioactive waste. Failure to do so has disastrous effects on plants, animals and humans who are unknowingly exposed. Take, for instance, the city of Goias, Brazil – where robbers stole a radioactive machine from an abandoned hospital and unwittingly poisoned 250 people who were unknowingly exposed – four of whom died.

It’s imperative that nuclear and radioactive materials are disposed of properly. If you are at all unsure of what you should do with radioactive materials – including gloves, sleeves, paper or glassware exposed to radiation – contact your Radiation Safety Officer ASAP for specific instructions.

The bottom line is that while it may seem like radioactive products and materials are “disposed of” they aren’t; radioactive isotopes have half-lives and many continue to emit radiation for hundreds to thousands and thousands of years. So, until the scientific innovators find a more successful solution, these toxic items are removed and stored far away (hopefully) from where they can seep into ground water, surrounding soil layers and the environment.

Most common methods of disposing of radioactive waste

After contaminated materials and/or radioactive substances have been disposed as per your company’s safety plan, it is disposed of in one of multiple ways.

On-site disposal and treatment

Initially, your company safety plan will incorporate things like specially marked boxes to house contaminated paper, glassware, sleeves, gloves, etc. Sharps containers are provided for knives, syringes, blades, broken glass and so on. Finally, special sinks or flushing stations are used for liquid waste.

In many cases, radioactive waste is temporarily treated onsite to mitigate its effects until it is more permanently disposed of. On-site treatments typically consist of processes such as vitrification, ion exchange or synroc. Again, on-site treatment isn’t the end of the line, but it prepares radioactive materials to be transported and minimizes the risk of short-term damage.

Incineration

Common in the medical arena – including labs and hospitals – low-level waste is incinerated at extremely high temperatures. This renders it neutral or to such low-risk levels that the incinerated waste can be disposed of in landfills just like everyday trash.

Geologic disposal

This is by far the most common method of storing nuclear and radioactive waste. Unfortunately, there are very few approved nuclear disposal sites around the world – a reason that there are nearly 30,000 undisposed-of tons of ceramic uranium dioxide pellets, stored in metal rods, at nuclear power plants around the world.

Geologic disposal directly translates to digging big pits, lining them with barriers that prevent radioactive seepage and burying radioactive waste deep into the ground. Before being buried, most of this mid- to higher-level waste is solidified in concrete or bitumen to further diminish its potency.

Transmutation

The idea behind transmutation is that potent radioactive isotopes are transformed into less-potent versions, making them somewhat safer to store and decreasing their half-life. For example, chemical reactions where protons hit a particle and change it. The most common examples of this happening now are transmuting chlorine into argon.

Theoretical disposal options

Then there are some proposed suggestions for disposing of radioactive waste that aren’t put into practice yet. These include:

  • Reprocessing: Often, radioactive waste is an amalgam that includes non-radioactive components. Reprocessing these to remove usable components (fissionable) from non-useable components that are then disposed of. Overall, this decreases the mass of the waste.
  • Disposal in space: Some experts feel we should build specialized rockets that would be loaded with our radioactive waste and then shot up into outer space. This option is heavily contested, with opponents citing the exorbitant financial costs, the potential for pre-space explosions to create a nuclear cloud for which there is no containment method and long-term ethical considerations.

There is no doubt that the U.S. and the world at large lacks enough disposal sites and methods to handle the current level of radioactive waste. This is of major concern to everyone across the nuclear and radiation industries.

The team at Lancs Industries is available to support your RSO’s and ALARA protocols via radiation shielding and protective clothing and accessories. Contact us to learn more.



Potassium Iodide, Your Thyroid & Radiation Protection

There are people all over the world who keep non-expired doses of potassium iodide on hand to protect themselves in the case of a nuclear fallout or related radioactive disaster. They do this as a proactive way of protecting themselves in case a nuclear emergency involves the presence of radioactive iodine – frequently released in a cloud or plume into the air, after which it settles on the ground, contaminating everything it touches – including food sources.

By taking potassium iodide, only if advised to do so by health and safety officials, you can “block” the thyroid’s ability to uptake the radioactive version, minimizing the after affects.

Why is the thyroid so important?

When you think of radiation poisoning or the eventual cancers and other diseases associated with former radiation exposure, it may seem strange that the thyroid is the gland healthcare officials focus on and protect. However, the thyroid gland – a two-inch, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck, below the Adam’s apple – is a powerhouse; the human body doesn’t fare well when thyroid function is below par.

The thyroid gland is responsible for hormone production and your body’s metabolism, so when it is negatively impacted, you can experience issues pertaining to:

  • Overall metabolic rate
  • Digestion
  • Heart function
  • Muscle control
  • Moods
  • Fertility
  • Bone maintenance
  • Brain development

Iodine – found in certain foods and added to “iodized salt,” is an essential nutrient to the thyroid. During normal life, and with a healthy diet, the minimum amount of iodine the thyroid requires is assimilated via the foods you eat. Any lack of iodine can result in thyroid issues.

The thyroid can’t distinguish between radioactive & non-radioactive iodine

Because the thyroid only requires a fairly minimal amount of iodine to thrive, it has a threshold of sorts. Once it has absorbed all the iodine it can from the bloodstream, it stops absorbing it. However, the thyroid doesn’t have the ability to distinguish between radioactive iodine and non-radioactive iodine.

In the event of a nuclear disaster that releases radioactive iodine, taking the recommended doses of potassium iodide (non-radioactive) saturates the thyroid gland, serving as a radiation “blocker” since the thyroid will leave the radioactive version that’s then excreted by the body.

Also important to note: good ol’ fashioned soap and warm water, combined with a thorough and vigorous scrub, are enough to eradicate radioactive iodine that has settled on the clothes (best to discard altogether or launder repeatedly), skin, hair, etc. Read, How do You Stop A Radioactive Spill, for more information on that. While the post is targeted to industrial and chemical industries, the basic tenets apply to anyone exposed to radioactive fallout.

When should you take potassium iodide (KI)?

Potassium Iodide (KI) is the same type of iodine used in table salt. That being said, KI is added in such micro-doses to table salt that ingesting copious amounts of iodide salt will not help to protect you from radioactive iodide. In fact, the World Health Organization warns, “…iodized salt should not be used as a substitute for KI since it will not provide protection against radioactive iodine, and eating excessive amounts of iodized salt will itself pose a significant health hazard.”

Potassium iodide can be purchased in supplement form without a prescription. KI should only be taken upon recommendation of health and safety officials immediately preceding or during a nuclear event – and should never be taken as a precautionary supplement as that can have adverse health effects.

It’s best to purchase KI from regulated and approved agencies. At this point, the US Government currently backs the quality of four different KI products:

  • iOSAT tablets, 130mg, from Anbex, Inc.
  • ThyroSafe tablets, 65mg, from Recipharm AB
  • ThyroShield oral solution, 65mg/mL, from Arco Pharmaceuticals, LLC
  • Potassium Iodide Oral Solution USP, 65mg/mL, from Mission Pharmacal Company

Visit the CDC’s website page on Bioterrorism and Drug Preparedness for information about dosage (based on age, weight and the measured level of radioactive iodide exposure), when you should begin taking KI and for how long, who should avoid taking the supplement, adverse side effects/risks, etc.

KI doesn’t provide comprehensive radiation protection

It’s important to note that KI isn’t a comprehensive radiation shielding product, it only protects us from radioactive events that release radioactive iodide. It does not protect you from:

  • Any other radioactive materials, such as radioactive caesium
  • Surface radiation (it doesn’t protect you from exposure to radiation on your skin, the ground, etc.
  • Ingesting or absorbing radiation, it simply protects the thyroid gland from absorbing it, which goes a long way toward protecting the body’s basic physiologic functions.

More comprehensive radiation protection and shielding products are required to protect your body, lungs, and external body from radiation exposure.

Are you concerned about radiation protection and the ability to protect yourself and your family in the event of nuclear fallout involving radioactive iodide? Contact Lancs Industries. We’ve provided radiation shielding products and solutions for more than 40 years.