The Radiation Post



Does Radiation Alter Your DNA

There are different types of radiation, and some have little to no effect on DNA – electromagnetic and radio waves, for example. However, ionizing radiation does affect DNA, and this can be harmful at best, and fatal at worst, if humans don’t have access to adequate protection.

Outside of the medical field, radiation exposure typically comes from external sources, including X-ray machines, radioactive materials used for industrial purposes, weapons production, nuclear power plants, etc. Its impact on human tissue depends on the type of radiation it is, the amount of exposure a person has, his/her access to radiation shielding products and/or the type of tissue that’s affected.

What is DNA?

In order to understand how radiation alters DNA, it’s good to know a little bit about what DNA is and how it’s structured.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the most important molecule in the body. It’s the blueprint, so-to-speak, from which every cell grows, develops, takes place, heals, replenishes, etc. These molecules are twisted up chains of genetic information, in the form of linked proteins and chemical bonds. DNA is quite amazing because while it’s actually microscopic – if the “chain” of sequenced proteins were stretched out, it would be about two-meters long.

The chemical bonds that hold the links in the DNA chain together are very strong, but they aren’t strong enough to withstand high-level, repeat and/or long-term exposure to radiation. When ionizing radiation enters the scene, it can become a force like a hatchet on a piece of wood – splitting crucial bonds apart, causing damage or destruction to these crucial DNA molecules. It can also cause a scattering effect, where the hits aren’t direct – but multiply and reveal themselves over time.

Ionizing Radiation + DNA = Cellular Chaos

The chemical bonds mentioned above take place via positively charged (protons) and negatively charged (electrons) molecules that are bound together. When ionizing radiation is present, it pushes an electron out of its natural orbit – destabilizing important bonds – and creating free radicals, or free, destabilized electrons that are scrambling to restore a stable balance of electrons again.

Freed electrons can continue to collide with other particles, causing more free radicals and further destabilization –the result being physiologic chaos at the cellular level that ultimately disrupts the body’s overall health and well-being. All of this happens very quickly, but the effects may not show up for quite some time.

How Does This Affect My Health?

When DNA is affected by radiation in this way – one of three things can happen:

  1. Immediate cell death. The damage can be so great that the cell dies. A few dead cells may not be that big of a deal, but numerous cell deaths could result in a burn or other, acute injuries or illness.
  2. Genetic mutations. If an area of the DNA strand is altered, rather than damaged completely, it causes mutations that will alter how the cell behaves or reproduces. These mutations can even take place in future generations, as the result of the altered DNA sequences a radiation-exposed parent passes on.
  3. Reproductive cell death. Even if the cell continues to live, or is mutated, damaged DNA may mean the cell can no longer reproduce.

Again, the types of damage that occur are related to radiation dose, exposure time, and so on – which is one of the reason workplace radiation safety programs include methods for detecting, measuring, and preventing exposure levels/times that would cause harm.

In the long-term, altered DNA can cause genetic mutations leading to cancer, sickness, disease, death or even genetic mutations that pass on to the next generation via mutations to sperm and egg cells.

Would I Know if I Had Cancer From Radiation?

Unfortunately, the types of cancers caused by radiation are not all that different from cancers that happen without radiation exposure. There are exceptions of course, but there is currently no way to measure the rate of cancer due to radiation.

Radiation Shielding and Protection Are the Solution

The best way to protect your DNA from mutations or cell death from radiation exposure is to ensure you’re adequately protected.

The more we know about radiation, and have access to products that limit our exposure, the less susceptible we’ll be to radiation that harms DNA – and the body it inhabits.

We Protect Your DNA From Ionizing Radiation

Do you want to learn more about radiation shielding and the workplace clothing and protective equipment available to you? Contact us here at Lancs Industries. We’ve provided high-quality radiation shielding and protection for nearly 50 years, and we’re always happy to help your company create customized materials that meet your particular niche or need.

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The Importance of Radiation Safety Training in the Workplace

Radiation Safety Training should be in integral part of any company whose work puts employees, the environment and/or others at risk for radiation contamination or exposure.

According to the 2017 Ionizing Regulations Act:

Every employer must ensure that those of its employees who are engaged in work with ionizing radiation are given appropriate training in the field of radiation protection and receive such information and instruction as is suitable and sufficient for them to know:

  • the risks to health created by exposure to ionizing radiation
  • the radiation protection procedures and precautions which should be taken
  • the importance of complying with the medical, technical and administrative requirements of these Regulations

Radioactive materials are used in a multitude of industries and sciences across the United States, and around the globe, including medical and pharmaceutical fields, physics and other scientific research, biology, mining, environmental clean-up and protection and other fields that benefit both our planet and human kind.

This puts millions of employees, researchers and those exposed to contaminated via proximity to radioactive materials, which is why radiation safety training is so important.

What Does Radiation Safety Training Look Like in the Workplace?

The large majority of harmful exposure to radiation in the workplace occurs as the result of an accident, and/or the lack of a workplace safety culture. The less education and training managers and employees have in regards to:

  • The risk of radiation exposure
  • Radioactive materials or substances in the workplace
  • Protective materials available
  • What to do in case of a radioactive spill, contamination, accident, etc.

the more likely there is to be a serious and irreversible emergency. Radiation safety is all about education and proactive prevention – with a hearty dose of training in terms of what to do when the “worst case scenario” takes place.

ALARA Can Serve as Your First Line of Radiation Safety Defense

ALARA is an acronym, as well as a safety principle and regulatory requirement, for companies that work with radioactive materials. It stands for As Low As Reasonably Achievable, and quantifies the idea that at all times, companies should strive to keep radioactive exposure to the lowest amount possible.

This is done in a variety of ways, ranging from how materials are listed, registered, stored and handled, to the radiation containment, protection and shielding mechanisms put into place.

The EPA as well as organizations such as OSHA are dedicated to ensuring company owner and key management personnel have all the information they need to adhere to ALARA principles and create a safety-first environment for employees, customers and others.

Read, ALARA: What is It and What Can it Do For You, for more information on this topic.

Who’s Your Radiation Safety Officer?

The radiation safety officer (RSO) plays a very important role in the safety training paradigm. In larger companies, the RSO may hold a full-time position – wholly dedicated to overseeing the continuous training of personnel, that radioactive materials are ordered, stored, used and disposed of safely, that radiation protection at all levels is current, easily accessible by employees, free of defects and is replaced as needed, and so on.

Radiation safety officers may also hold this title adjunct with another job description – typically with an increase in pay. In addition to their regular duties, these RSOs also ensure their company complies with radiation safety-related regulations.

In most cases, RSOs host the bulk of the regular safety meetings and in-house trainings, in addition to ensuring managers and key personnel have access to off-site safety trainings and regulation updates as needed.

Read, How to Become a Radiation Safety Officer, to learn more about this invaluable part of a company’s radiation safety training program.

Benefits of Radiation Safety Training and Awareness

The benefits of a company safety culture are many. Most importantly, awareness and routine training saves lives. This can take many forms, including:

  • Maintaining current certifications and licensures
  • Observing federal, state and local radiation legislation to its fullest
  • Regular water cooler chats
  • Routine Friday (or whatever day of the week) safety meetings
  • Incentives for employees for following procedures
  • Rewards and reassurance for honestly reporting safety issues that need immediate attention, without fear of recrimination
  • Thorough training and testing in terms of skills and operating procedures

Safety training can be handled in-house and very informally, but should also include formal education and training (including the certification or licensure for certain employees) as needed.

Are you interested in learning more about the shielding, containment and radiation protection that can be incorporated into your company’s daily safety practices? Contact us here at Lancs Industries. We’ve served as a leader in radiation protection for more than forty-years and we’re happy to fabricate custom orders as needed.

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Radiation Containment Types & Styles: Adequate Protection Requires the Right Choice

Your protection from radiation exposure is entirely dependent on the quality of the shielding products you use. Failure to choose the right type or style can lead to unnecessary exposure and long-term consequences.

Radiation Containment 101: Basic Types and Styles

If you’re working in a radioactive career or in a job environment, its essential that you and your co-workers are provided with adequate protection and shielding products. In most cases, your company’s radiation safety officer (RSO) will oversee these selection and modify them as needed, depending on the project. However, it’s still a good idea to know your options so you can bring any weak spots to the RSO’s attention.

Here are some examples of basic radiation containment types and styles:

Contain leaks and drips

Ultimately, any leaks or drips of radioactive material will be repaired. In the meantime, you need a good catchment system to contain the materials and prevent their spread or further contamination of the area, groundwater, etc.

Catch containments and accessories are designed to do just that, and come in various shapes and sizes to address the specifics of your situation.

Temporarily patch your containment shielding

Have a leak, puncture or tear in your shielding materials? Patch kits will do the trick until your containment or shields can be replaced. Patch kits are available for both containments as well as glove bags. The kits can also be used to modify existing containments or glove bags until custom versions can be made.

Filter pouches

Filter pouches will allow fresh air to be brought into to containment tents or glove bags, while trapping radioactive particulate matter so it doesn’t contaminate workers or spread to protected, exterior environments.

Flanged sleeves

Most sleeves and gloves are designed to fit custom measurements around the exposure field. Sometimes, the accessible field may need to be extended. If longer sleeves aren’t available, flanged sleeves can be used for additional penetration depths. These sleeves are affixed to tents or glove bags using glue or tape.

Flanged glove sleeves

These sleeves work similar to flanged sleeves, but they are specific to when a worker’s gloves will need to extended to provide further protection from the increased penetration into the containment site is needed.

What do I do if my company doesn’t provide adequate protection?

The good news is that organizations such as OSHA and radiation-specific safety programs – such as ALARA – have kept conscientious employers to task when it comes to providing employees with adequate protection and education regarding radiation exposure. That being said, it’s imperative that you check-in with management if you feel employees at your jobsite are inadequately protected.

If you feel afraid to do so, or worry your position with the company is in jeopardy if you sound the alarm, contact OSHA directly. They take employee safety very seriously, particularly when it comes to radioactive materials since radiation doesn’t just affect you and your fellow co-workers, but also the immediate and global environment at large. Plus, employees that report employer safety violations are protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act.

You can contact OHSA’s free and confidential on-site consultation program and discuss your concerns with an OSHA employee directly (1-800-321-OSHA). Your name will never be mentioned, but this important call will trigger the necessary inspections and/or investigations to ensure your health – and the health of your employees – is protected. The good news is that if your company is guilty, no fines or penalties will be issued as long as they immediately clean up the violation, comply with OSHA’s instructions and pass successive inspections.

Interested in learning more about job-related radiation containment and shielding products? Contact us here at Lancs Industries. In addition to providing custom protection when needed, we can also help you determine whether your company is violating radiation protection protocols, and to establish which shielding and containment products are right for you.

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Radiation Exposure Compensation Act

It’s important to note that while the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) does help certain individuals who were unlawfully and/or unethically exposed to nuclear weapons radiation – it only pertains to very particular years during 1945 and 1962. If you have been exposed to radiation after these dates – via your place of work or an industrial site that uses radioactive materials – this act probably does not apply to you. Contact OSHA to learn more about your rights.

The original RECA legislature came into being as a way of compensating those who were unknowingly exposed to the dangers of radiation as the US tested nuclear weapons. The majority of these tests took place above the ground in Nevada, Utah and elsewhere around the world. There were also smaller numbers of tests run in New Mexico other testing sites.

RECA Has Very Strict Stipulations in Terms of Who Qualifies

Throughout that 17-year span of time, hundreds of thousands of people were involved and/or exposed in some way via testing maneuvers. In addition to those individuals, others who lived nearby and within certain, downwind drift zones also suffered from radiation exposure, both during and after the tests. Then, there are also all the uranium miners and non-military workers who worked at or near nuclear weapons facilities and test sites who suffered radiation exposure, and potential exposure to other toxic elements.

These are the bulk of the individuals who qualify for Radiation Exposure Compensation through RECA – and they are broken into three different categories. There are specific stipulations even within each category of individuals that determine whether or not an individual (or his/her family) is entitle to compensation – based on proof of exposure, length of employment and the establishment of certain medical conditions.

Uranium millers, miners and transporters

Anyone who mined, milled and/or transported uranium between the years of 1942 and 1971 may be entitled to up to $100,000. Most of these workers who suffered from exposure developed kidney or lung cancers, although other conditions also qualify.

Onsite participants

Any military or civilian participants who were onsite at the time of nuclear weapons testing, and who developed diagnosable medical conditions that meet certain criteria may collect up to $75,000. If you were in the military and suffered radiation exposure as the result of the Nagasaki or Hiroshima blasts, you are not eligible for RECA.

Downwinders

Then there are those who lived and/or worked near certain nuclear sites and were susceptible to contamination via nuclear fall-out. Downwinders must have lived in specifically outlined regions in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Also, any one applying as a downwinder must have lived in qualifying regions for no less than two-years, ranging from 1951 to 1962. With proper proof, these residents may be eligible for up to $50,000.

Some of the conditions required for eligibility in any of the above three categories include:

  • Cancer of the thyroid, lungs, kidneys, breast, esophagus, stomach, colon, brain, bladder, ovary, pancreas, small intestine, throat – and the list goes on.
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Leukemia
  • Multiple Myeloma

While there is no doubt that radiation exposure causes cancer, particularly thyroid cancer and various leukemias, the type of radiation one is exposed to, the length of exposure time, etc., all play a role in whether or not a particular ailment is associated with radiation exposure.

Those who feel they and/or a family member are eligible for compensation through RECA can contact Department of Justice Radiation Exposure Compensation Program by phone at 1-800-729-7327), or visit their website at www.justice.gov/civil/common/reca.html

What If I’ve Been Exposed to Cancer-Causing Radiation Through My Workplace

There are other programs available to protect employees who feel they might have been exposed to cancer causing radiation that resulted in a medical diagnosis. One of these is called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP).

This program provides two forms of compensation – monetary payment and/or medical benefits and treatment compensation – to nuclear weapons workers employed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) prior to 1992. This includes anyone who worked for the DOE as a contractor or subcontractor. Qualifying employees must have worked within the arena of nuclear weaponry. Certain other workers, including uranium miners, millers and transporters may also be eligible.

If you feel you may qualify for compensation via the EEOICP and would like to file a claim, visit Benefits.gov’s EEOICP Compensation page, or contact the US DOL at 1-866-888-3322.

Do you work in an environment that puts you at risk for radiation exposure. Contact us here at Lancs Industries to discuss your radiation shielding options.

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The History of X-Ray Technology

Professor Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered x-ray radiation in his Wuerzburg University lab back in 1895. His discovery is said to have landed like a bomb-shell in the scientific community – and we can honestly say the world has not been the same since.

While working with a cathode-ray tube, the professor noticed crystals on a table near the tube were glowing. As he manipulated the materials in the tube (positive and negative electrodes), he realized a new type of ray was emitting from the tube – stimulating phosphorescent particles in the room. He also discovered this new ray could pass though most solid materials, including human skin. As it did so, it cast a shadow of the solid objects within. When paired with photograph images, you could preserve the process (a finding that led to the x-ray films used in medicine).

Bone was one of the materials that seemed to (mostly) block these rays, as was metal. You might be familiar with one of Roentgen’s first x-ray images, that of his wife’s left hand – with a clear image of her bones and a wedding ring. Once he shared the discovery, scientists around the world rapidly replicated the cathode tube experiments. While it’s true they were uncovering an incredibly powerful and useful “tool,” it is also true that they commended more than a half-century’s long, ignorant exploitation of harmful radiation.

X-Rays were the first radioactive discovery

The combination of x-ray technology and photography immediately caught the attention of scientists of physics, who immediately began using x-rays to explore the structure of matter. X-rays were immediately embraced by the medical field, and within months of its discovery, WWI surgeons were using x-rays to locate bullets and metal shrapnel in their patients. Surgeons in both Europe and the United States were using x-rays to guide them as they worked – somewhat like how benign ultrasounds and scopes are used today. Dentists also saw the possibilities and began using x-rays in their practices.

It took roughly a decade before x-rays were used in the industrial fields because the amount of voltage required to produce a strong enough x-ray wound up breaking the cathode tubes. In 1913, William Coolidge invented a high-vacuum x-ray tube, which could withstand higher power voltage. This strengthening of materials – and refinement of the technology – as continued ever since.

Then Came the Second Source of Radiation

Henri Becquerel, a French scientist working along the same lines a Roentgen, discovered a natural radiation source in 1896. Also working with fluorescents, Becquerel noticed that uranium also gave off radiation. In his case, though, nobody really took notice in any notable way. Rather, Marie Curie – a polish scientist working in France – took interest and began working with her husband, Pierre, to find other radiation sources – including radium and polonium. Since then, scientists have identified multiple naturally occurring, radioactive materials (NORMS).

Things Moved Quickly from Radioactive Fun to Radioactive Dangerous

In the beginning, scientists performed experiments without any cause for concern about their own, or their test subjects’, safety. In fact, during the turn of the century, radioactive substances were treated akin to party tricks – and were sold in mainstream stores as home x-ray kits, health drinks, teeth whiteners and just about any other gimmick you can think of. Because the onset of most low- to mid-grade radiation exposure-based sickness is gradual – rather than acute – experts didn’t associate the injuries and side-effects they experienced as related to radiation.

While some early experimenters did associate their skin burns with their exposure to radioactive exposure, it took the eye irritation experienced by inventors such as Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla to wake the scientific community up. Between their complaints, and the work of the Manhattan Project, a tremendous amount of research has been done on radiation and its effect on living organisms.

Ultimately, we’ve learned that radiation protection is a must-have in all scenarios involving radioactive materials and radiation. This ranges from the lead aprons you wear at the dentist office to full-scale work tents and ventilation units. Also, companies and industries that expose employees to radiation have taken serious steps to ensure their workers are safe and that their companies are compliant with government regulations. A company safety culture is crucial to keeping everyone safe if you work in career that exposes you to radiation.

X-rays have changed the way we ‘do’ medicine – lives have been saved and countless injuries healed as a result of this powerful tool. In the industrial world, x-rays identify cracks and breaks inside of products, and physicists use them to explore outer space. In truth, x-rays have changed life as we know it.

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Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous?

There are different types of radiation – and some are more harmless than others. Ionizing radiation – the type that messes with your DNA and causes radiation sickness – is the “bad kind.” This is very different from electromagnetic radiation, which is considered non-ionizing (doesn’t break chemical bonds and/or damage your DNA).

Even so, experts worry that over-exposure to non-ionizing, electromagnetic radiation might be a problem in the long-term, depending on levels of exposure. And, their worries are not entirely unfounded. The reality is that this type of radiation has only been an issue for those of us living in the 20th- and 21st centuries, as technological advancement continues to introduce increasing numbers of wireless, electric gadgets and machines into our everyday life.

As a result, our continuous exposure to these instruments is relatively new, and it can take years – or even decades – of data before scientists can make concrete statements one way or the other.

What Happens When Your Body is Exposed to Electromagnetic Fields?

The bulk of our bodies’ systems and processes rely on a combination of chemical interactions and electrical impulses. This includes everything from your heartbeat, to digestion to brain activity. Therefore, any electromagnetic forces that are powerful enough to disturb these natural, biological processes can potentially cause harm to your body. However, the bulk of the electromagnetic energy you’re exposed to each day (unless you work in a radioactive career) are very low-level forms of radiation and do not disrupt normal, biological processes enough to do any harm.

In fact, in almost all cases, elevated temperature levels (heat) are the only bi-product of exposure. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “The levels of radiofrequency fields to which people are normally exposed are very much lower than those needed to produce significant heating.” This is one of the reasons most experts aren’t overly concerned about the effects of our daily exposure to electromagnetic radiation sources; the amount of energy required to do biological harm far exceeds the limits set by national and international governing bodies.

That being said, scientists continue to study the effects of long-term, low-level exposure to radiofrequency or power frequency fields to monitor any adverse health effects that may arise.

Current Research Shows No Harmful Effects from Long-Term, Low-Level Exposure

In order to address the public’s concern, WHO launched a large, multidisciplinary research project called the Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Project. As a result, EMF researchers have published tens of thousands of articles summarizing their findings over the course of the past 30 years. Based on a recent, in-depth review of this enormous body of studies, the WHO concluded, “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.”

Some members of the public report a collection of side-effects related to EMFs – including headaches, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, anxiety, depression, etc.. However, scientists reviewing the EMF Project’s findings conclude those side effects are more likely caused by individual’s stress levels as a result of technology. Perhaps this is simply more proof you should limit the amount of time spent on electronic devices, and increase the amount of time you spend outdoors, exercising, in nature!), environmental noise factors and/or other factors pertaining to the environment.

Don’t Cell Phones Cause Cancer, Infertility and other Health Problems?

Cell phones have given the public great cause for concern. Sources of electromagnetic fields, these small, handheld devices have been accused of causing everything from cancer and infertility to negative pregnancy outcomes and more.

It’s important to note that to date, researchers haven’t been able to connect any of those outcomes to electromagnetic radiation. However, the direct heat produced by EMFs can potentially do harm. For example, several studies have been able to link excessive male cellphone use and/or carrying cell phones in pockets with male infertility factors. For this reason, most scientists and medical professionals recommend using Bluetooth technology as much as possible, carrying cell phones away from the body whenever possible and limiting the amount of time spent in direct contact with cellphones that are charging and/or sending and receiving messages.

While the study of electromagnetic fields and their connection to cancer are ongoing, this type of research has significantly slowed since the 1990s. That being said, WHO’s reports state, “The long-term health effects of mobile telephone use is another topic of much current research. No obvious adverse effect of exposure to low level radiofrequency fields has been discovered. However, given public concerns regarding the safety of cellular telephones, further research aims to determine whether any less obvious effects might occur at very low exposure levels.”

How Can I Protect Myself From Electromagnetic Radiation?

In our line of work, we advocate that it’s never a bad idea to err on the side of caution. You can protect yourself from any potential, harmful effects of electromagnetic radiation by one or more of the following:

  • Limiting cell phone use and keep your phone away from your body as much as possible (use speakerphone and Bluetooth devices as much as possible).
  • Turn your phone off when not in use for long periods of time (i.e. while it’s charging at night).
  • Use cordless phones as close to the base station as possible and when it’s time to replace the cordless phone, do so with a lower radiation level.
  • If you’re worried about Wi-Fi signals (studies show children may be more sensitive to than adults) consider using an Ethernet connection whenever possible and turn the Wi-Fi router off when not in use.
  • Don’t forget that stress is toxic! Worrying about the effects of these devices might be more damaging to your health than the devices themselves so utilize stress-relieving practices as much as possible to keep your adrenal system healthy.

Key Points to Remember

A few key points to remember when reading/thinking/exploring the idea of electromagnetic radiation and your health are:

  1. In almost all instances, the small amount of electrical currents introduced to your body via EMFs are not harmful and are easily tended to by your body’s own regulatory mechanisms.
  2. The term “biological effect” does not mean “health hazard.”
  3. Heat is the main byproduct of EMFs related to electrical/tech gadgets, and it’s not enough to harm most biological systems.
  4. Extensive research has not been able to show that long-term, low-level exposure to EMFs is harmful to human health.
  5. The small steps you take here and there to reduce EMFs in your life add up to notable changes.

Think you need extra protection? Work in an industry with high-level EMF exposure? Contact us here at Lancs Industries and we’ll make sure you have the shielding you need.

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Radiation in Outer Space

The bulk of the natural radiation experienced in everyday life comes from outer space. Most immediately, we’re exposed to radiation from the sun’s UV rays – hence our sensible attention to wearing hats, staying in the shade and donning sunscreen when spending time outdoors. However, the sun isn’t the only source of radiation in space.

For most of us, these additional space-related sources of radiation aren’t a problem. That being said, they do pose a problem to astronauts and others whose “radioactive careers” may find themselves conducting research outside the earth’s protective atmosphere.

Outer Space Has Three Different Types of Radiation

The earth’s atmosphere serves as a protective shield for those of us planet-bound animals and plants. Once you leave that protection, you’re exposed to three different types of radiation – all of which can be harmful if you don’t take proper precautions.

Here are the three types of radiation found in space – from the sun, within the Milky Way galaxy, and beyond. All of them pose a threat in the form of ionizing radiation – which means it disrupts the DNA “blueprints” in our cells, making it difficult for the cells to do what they’re supposed to. The results of exposure to ionizing radiation can be negligible or they can cause full-blown radiation sickness.

Particles trapped in the earth’s magnetic field

The earth’s magnetic field is a “trap” for radioactive particles from outer space that are blown towards earth via the solar winds. This magnetic field, which exists as a series of belts on the inner-region of the earth’s magnetic sphere – are actually the product of electric currents generated outward from Earth’s liquid, iron core.

Ultimately, these electric currents attract and trap radioactive particles, protecting us from 99.9% of harmful radioactive particles and radioactive waves from space. Once you leave that field, however, it’s a different story. According to space.com, “An instrument aboard the Curiosity Mars rover during its 253-day deep-space cruise revealed that the radiation dose received by an astronaut on even the shortest Earth-Mars round trip would be about 0.66 Sievert. This amount is like receiving a whole-body CT scan every five or six days.”

Particles shot from space during solar flares

When solar flares and/or coronal mass ejections occur (they often occur at the same time), the sun spews out tremendous quantities of highly-charged protons. Since earth is in relatively close proximity to the sun, we are a regular target. When this happens, the earth’s poles as well as other high-elevation locations can receive these radioactive particles within 30-minutes or so of their occurrence. Unfortunately, solar flares and coronal mass ejections aren’t that easy to predict. The less they occur the better for those of us on earth, and it’s also a good thing the most affected areas of the planet are less inhabited.

Galactic cosmic rays

Finally, galactic cosmic rays contain heavy, high-energy ions of various elements. Because these elements are traveling through the galaxy at speeds close to the speed of light, they are stripped of their electrons en route. Ultimately, these rays ionize the atoms they pass through – and even the wall of a typical spacecraft – and certainly an astronaut’s skin – hardly work to slow them down.

These galactic cosmic rays are considered the dominant source of radiation in space, and they pose the most significant threat to the humans that operate The International Space Station – as well as anyone who will eventually participate in future space missions. The sun’s magnetic field works to interfere with these particles – but that protective field decreases when sunspots are minimal. This weakens the sun’s magnetic field, making galactic cosmic the most intense during these minimal sunspot phases.

Fortunately, galactic cosmic rays are easier to predict so the International Space Station and scheduled space missions take this into account when planning and manning intergalactic exploration.

Because the exploration of outer space is relatively new, we are still learning about the risks and long-term effects of radiation on astronauts and those will work in – and will eventually travel to – outer space on a more regular basis.

Lancs Industries Creates Customized Radiation Shielding Products

While we’re happy to help protect astronauts and future space employees in the future, Lancs Industries is a leader in customized radiation shielding products for those who work in radioactive careers – or find themselves exposed to radiation – right here on planet earth. Contact us to learn more about our products and services.

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The Most Radioactive Places on Earth

Radioactive isotopes have shockingly long half-lives – the amount of time it takes them to decay. As a result, radioactive accidents or emergencies potentially leave lifetimes of toxicity behind in their wake. If you’re a world traveler, it’s worth knowing about some of the most radioactive places on the planet so you can steer clear and prevent exposing yourself to unnecessary doses of direct radiation.

Take Care When Traveling to 5 of the Most Radioactive Places on Earth

Remember learning about half-lives of isotopes in earth science and chemistry? If not, we’ll refresh your memory with this list of commonly-used radioactive isotopes and their half-lives:

  • Uranium: 4.5 billion years
  • Plutonium 239: 24,300 years
  • Plutonium 238: 87.7 years
  • Cesium 137: 30.2 years
  • Strontium-90: 28-years

Depending on the spill or fall-out situation, and the isotopes involved, certain areas on the planet are off-limits for a generation or two, and others are permanently wiped off the map for all of life as we know it.

As of today’s date, 5 of the most radioactive places on earth are:

Fukishima, Japan

On Friday, March 11, 2011 the Pacific coast of Japan experienced an earthquake with a magnitude upwards of 9.0. This significant movement of the tectonic plates caused a tsunami that destroyed Fukushima, along with its Daiichi Nuclear Plant. Theoretically, the plant was supposed to shutdown in the case of a natural disaster. Instead the generator designated to cool the reactors failed to engage and this lead to a nuclear meltdown.

Ultimately, three active reactors leaked radioactive material, and this was followed by a succession of other nuclear emergencies, including a radioactive spill next to the contaminated wastewater storage pool. In addition to the ground around Fukushima, adjacent areas of the Pacific coast are also affected.

The power plant is completely shut down and experts believe it will take a full 40-years or more before the plant is completely decommissioned.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

Chernobyl was the nuclear event of the 1980s. On April 26, 1986 one of the world’s largest nuclear disasters occurred when Reactor 4 exploded, and it released radiation that was 100-times more powerful than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs combined. Very sadly, as a result, the immediate effects of radiation exposure affected six-million innocent people, and experts believe that when all is said and done, the death toll from Chernobyl will be as high as 93,000 people.

Belarus has been the most-affected area by the disaster, where the population experiences record numbers of thyroid and other types of cancers. Roughly 2,600 square km (almost 1004-square miles) is a designated Exclusion Zone (meaning public access and inhabitants are completely restricted) because of the high levels of radioactivity.

The Polygon

During the cold war, the Soviet Union used an area called The Polygon, which is now located in modern-day Kazakhstan. During that period of time, nuclear experts estimate that as many as 400 nuclear weapons were tested in that area.

As a result, it’s considered completely uninhabitable – a fact that has shamefully not been enforced upon the more than 500,000 people who have lived in the area throughout the past decades. It’s believe that more than 200,000 people are still suffering from radiation sickness at some level due to their exposure to radiation. Fortunately, the immediate area has been abandoned and is completely off-limits to visitors.

Hanford, Washington – USA

During WWII, the US manufactured plutonium for atom bombs in a quiet town called Hanford, Washington. The materials made there were eventually dropped on Nagasaki. Then, during the Cold War, Hanford’s plutonium manufacturing efforts ramped up again in order to produce 600,000 additional nuclear weapons.

The plutonium plant in Hanford is now decommissioned, but (see half-life numbers above) it currently contains roughly two-thirds of our nation’s highly radioactive waste – in both solid and liquid forms. Radioactive waste has contaminated an estimated 200 square miles of groundwater in the area as well, making Hanford the most radioactive place in the United States.

Goias, Brazil

Goias has one of the most interesting stories of them all because the radioactive waste was uncovered during a robbery attempt back in 1987. Two men broke into an abandoned hospital, hoping to steal scrap metal. While there, they noticed a cancer therapy device that contained a glowing, blue material the criminals couldn’t resist.

The robbers stole the machine and – oblivious to the fact that the glowing, blue material was radioactive – they started calling up friends, neighbors and family to come take a look at this amazing glowing object. Sadly, everyone who heeded the call was exposed to radiation. More than 250 people were admitted to the hospital, four of whom died. The Brazilian government was called in to clean up the area but the unprecedented event left radioactive particles spread across a large area.

Always Use Adequate Protection When Exposed to Radioactive Materials

The above places and stories are prime examples of what great respect medical and industrial professionals must have and hold for the materials they work with. Always protect yourself from any level of radiation exposure to err on the safe side.

Contact Lancs Industries to learn more about industry-specific radiation shielding.

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What Materials Are Used in Radiation Shielding?

Radiation contamination is always a concern anywhere radioactive materials or tools are used, which is why radiation shielding products are essential to any ALARA program or a relevant company safety program. This includes nuclear power facilities and industrial complexes, to medical facilities where x-rays are used, and any other “radioactive workspaces.”

Containing the radiation and preventing it from harming employees, contaminating tools or contaminating the surrounding environment should be a Number One priority. This happens in a variety of ways – tents and ventilation systems, sleeving and bags, suiting up in protective clothing, etc. – but how does all that stuff work?

What is it about radiation shielding products that actually works to stop one of the deadliest contaminants in our environment?

Radiation Shielding Products Depend on the Type of Radiation in Question

There are two different “genres” of radiation: indirectly ionizing radiation and directly ionizing radiation.

  • Indirectly ionizing radiation. This type includes neutrons, gamma rays or x-rays, which are uncharged and require an intermediary in order to remove an electron and create free radicals.
  • Directly ionizing radiation. This type of radiation involves charged particles – such as electrons or alpha particles, that act directly on molecules or atoms without any intermediary step or element required.

As a result of these differences, the materials comprising the shielding products are key – ensuring specific particles are blocked by the elemental properties of the shielding material.

Shielding Products Rob Radioactive Particles of Their Energy

Ultimately, radiation shielding products are designed to facilitate attenuation. Attenuation means the gradual loss of intensity as a particular particle or substance flows or moves through a barrier. So, for example, sunglasses provide attenuation, diminishing the power of sunlight as it makes its way from the sun, through the dark tinted glasses, and into your eyes.

In the case of radiation shielding, we aim to attenuate the particles that would otherwise have the ability to interact with cellular material and destroy healthy DNA.

  • Charged particles: These are usually de-energized by barriers that contain electrons. The charged particles lose energy to the electrons in the barrier and are no longer threatening.
  • Neutrons: When we use a combination of elastic and inelastic scattering, we reduce the potential harm of neutrons.
  • X-Rays and Gamma Rays: These are attenuated in three ways – photoemission (the process of exposing certain metals to light in order to release electrons), scattering (using a material that causes the particles to scatter, significantly diminishing their trajectory and concentration) and pair production.

Depending on the scenario, your place of business might opt for one shielding material over another, depending on considerations such as:

  • Effectiveness
  • Resistance to damage in a particular environment/setting
  • Strength
  • Thermal properties
  • Financial efficiency

Gamma and X-Ray Shielding

When it comes to attenuating gamma and x-rays, density matters. This is one of the reasons why lead aprons and blankets are the most common shielding products wherever gamma-rays or x-rays are used. If you may recall from earth science or chemistry, lead (Pb) had a very high number or protons in each atom – 82, to be exact, along with a corresponding number of electrons. This makes it a very dense metal shield. The thickness of the shielding is adjustable according to the degree of protection required.

Even so, a small number of particles can still make it through so this needs to be taken into consideration is routine exposure is potential.

Alpha and Beta Shielding

In the case of alpha and beta shielding, we still place an emphasis on density but thickness is not as much of a concern as it is with x-rays and gamma rays. Alpha particles can be blocked by something as simple as a centimeter of plastic or an inch of paper. Since lead doesn’t always stop beta particles, we prefer to use plastic to block these particles as well, which is efficient in terms of economics as well as maneuverability.

Neutron Shielding

Neutrons have no charge, and so they can pass through dense materials – like lead – as quick as they please. Thus, we need elements with a low atomic number to stop neutron radiation. Hydrogen, the very lightest of the elements – becomes an ideal choice. When neutron radiation passes through the very un-dense hydrogen-based materials (water being a prime example) the low-density material forms a barrier, preventing neutron particles from passing through.

That being said, the act of blocking the neutrons can cause low-density materials to emit gamma-rays when blocking neutrons, so we typically combine both low- and high-density materials. The low-density materials create the elastic scattering of the neutrons, and then the high-density material blocks the resulting gamma rays via in-elastic scattering.

Want to make sure your company is using the right radiation shielding project for the job? Contact the team here at Lancs Industries. We’ll work with you to find the best product, at the right price. Don’t see what you need on our website? We are always happy to customize specific products to your needs.

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How is Radiation Measured and Detected

Radiation is colorless, odorless, tasteless, soundless and lacks any type of tangible “feeling.” As a result, it’s nearly impossible – save an acute event resulting in immediate physical damage – for individuals to know they are exposed to radiation at all. If you work in a radioactive career, your company safety culture matters.

It’s your company’s – and the radiation safety officer’s (RSO) commitment to ALARA – including adequate detection and measurement technologies that will keep you and other employees safe.

How is Radiation Measured?

Radiation is present in our environment, the earth, outer space and even in our homes. This is because radiation is a natural phenomenon. As such, humans and other living organisms can withstand small doses, over time, with zero to minimal health risks. It’s only when those radiation doses creep up into the larger limits, are at closer proximity and/or exposure occurs over a long-period of time that radiation poses a serious risk.

For this reason, nuclear plants, industries that work with radioactive materials, and individuals who work or live within close proximity to radiation, should ensure proper measurement and detection protocols are put in place. Industry-respected, high-quality radiation instruments are the only means of telling whether or not there is a potential risk from radiation (over) exposure to yourself and others.

How to measure a radiation dose rate

The first thing to note is that not radiation detectors are not created equal. Some measure contamination, some only measure specific types of radiation, and others only tell you the type of radiation the instrument detects. If you’re worried about radiation sickness or being poisoned by radiation, you need an instrument that more specifically measures radiation dose rates, so you can respond accordingly.

Geiger Counter

The Geiger Counter is the first instrument laypersons think of when they hear radiation detection or measurement device because we learned about it back in earth science. However, it’s not always the best choice. The average Geiger counter will go haywire and yield an inaccurate high reading when hyper-responds to low-energy gamma rays that comprise the majority of natural background radiation, and it will give an alarmingly low reading if you’re attempting to measure radiation from high-energy gamma rays.

The best Geiger counter for measuring radiation dose rates is one that is what we call “energy compensated.” Energy-compensated Geiger counters are designed to make up for those differences. Even so, we don’t consider these to be the most effective way of accurately measuring specific radiation dose rates.

Ion Chamber

Ion chambers, or similar pressurized versions that can measure really low radiation dose rates, are basically chambers filled with gas. The electrical properties of the enclosed gas change whenever radiation passes through the chamber. By measuring these electrical changes, we can tell how much radiation the ion chamber is exposed to. Radiation dose rates are measured in milliRoentgen per hour, or mR/hr.

How to measure radioactive contamination

While you may breathe a sigh of relief when the ion chamber indicates a low radiation dose rate, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. There could be radioactive contamination that needs to be addressed. This is important to note because if and whenever possible, radiation contamination should be cleaned up.

For example, after a nuclear reactor accident, distant areas may have low radioactive dose rate measurements while still reading positive for nuclear contamination. Why leave radioactive materials in and around the earth if we don’t need to?

In this case, as touched on above, Geiger counters are the perfect instrument to use. More specifically, you can use a pancake GM, a specific type of Geiger counter to measure contamination – which is measured in counts per minute, or CPM.

How to Measure Different Types of Radiation

There are four different types of radiation: alpha, beta, gamma and neutron. Since each one has different properties, each one of them is measured a bit differently.

  • Alpha radiation is measured by a GM pancake probe or a zinc sulfide scintillator
  • Beta radiation is measure using a GM pancake probe, a beta scintillator or an ion chamber
  • Gamma radiation is measured by a GM pancake probe, a GM hot dog probe, a sodium iodide scintillator or an ion chamber.
  • Neutron radiation is most commonly measured using a scintillation detector and specialized detection software.

Do you work in a radioactive career or employ others who require specialized radiation protection? Contact us here at Lancs Industries. We design and manufacture leading radiation shielding and protection products, including glove bags and sleeving, to increase the safety of workers in potentially hazardous environments. We can also design custom equipment, clothing and products.

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