Different Types of Radiation Shielding Materials

We’re lucky to live in a time period where:

A) We understand the dangers and risks associated with exposure to radioactive materials
B) We understand the various ways to protect ourselves from radiation
C) We have the materials knowledge and technology to craft radiation shielding products that are more workable, comfortable and versatile than ever before.

So, what is it that makes a materials “radiation proof?” While the basics of radiation materials are roughly the same, there are three different types of materials that can be used according to the application that makes the most sense for your company, the type of work you’re doing and the environment in which the work or shielding will be used.


What are Radiation Shielding Materials?

In essence, there are only three different types of materials that provide protection from radiation for both individuals and environments. Whether you’re using containment tents, protective clothing or lead blankets – these products are your most powerful defense against burns, radiation sickness, cancer and other medical conditions linked to excess radiation exposure.

Examples of work that may expose you to unhealthy levels of radiation include:

  • Diagnostic imaging (including veterinary technicians and assistants)
  • Nuclear and industrial applications
  • Radiation therapy
  • Airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers
  • Anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists
  • Immigrations and customs inspectors
  • Dental technicians

Without adequate access to information, education and protection, workers in these fields are at risk. It is the employers’ responsibility to ensure workers have adequate radiation protection, typically taking the form of radiation proof barriers, vests, skirts or aprons.

3 Most Common Radiation Shielding Materials

Lead (Pb) shielding

Historically, lead shielding products have been the most common. You are probably familiar with the lead apron that is used as a shield when you visit your dentist and require dental X-rays. As one of the most dense elements on the planet, that thin apron can be surprisingly heavy!

It is this density that makes leadless-vulnerable to radiation – particularly Gamma and X-ray radiation, which are the most harmful types of radiation. Since lead is very brittle when it exists on its own, manufacturers mix it with special additives and binders to make it more flexible. In this form, lead can be molded into thinner sheets and can be used in a range of radiation shielding products.

These products come in three standard measurements, based on the thickness of the lead sheet: 0.25mm, 0.35mm and 0.5mm, with the protective qualities increasing in relationship with the thickness. Custom thicknesses are also available when you work directly with a radiation shielding products manufacturer.

Lead composite shielding

As we mentioned, lead is dense – and that makes it heavy. Sometimes, it’s simply too heavy and/or cumbersome, which can prevent certain work from being done – or can prohibit employees from taking advantage of radiation shielding on a regular basis in an effort to get their work done efficiently.Thus, the industry began experimenting with lead composite options, meaning we mix lead with other, lighter-weight metals that reduce the penetrability of radiation.

Although lighter than lead, composite shielding is still made using heavy metals and will provide adequate protection when mixed adeptly with lead. Typically, these composite shielding products include tin, rubber, PVC vinyl and other ingredients. Most manufacturers work with custom-blends to make a proprietary mixture that can be trademarked.The finished products are as much as 25% lighter than a lead equivalent, although they must be able to provide the same level of protection as an all-lead version.

Non-lead or Lead-free shielding

The third option is a completely lead-free version, which uses proprietary blends of various composite shielding materials that provide the same level of radiation protection as lead – minus the lead. Typically, these products will contain one or more heavy metals, like tin, tungsten, antimony, bismuth and/or other dense materials.

The benefit of non-lead shielding products is that they are typically lighter and more comfortable to wear, and they are also easier to recycle or add to non-hazardous disposal containers since they don’t contain lead (a toxic metal).

Each of these radiation shielding materials has its own pros and cons, depending on the type of work being done, the duration of radiation exposure, levels of exposure and so on. Your company’s radiation safety officer should be able to select the best radiation shielding product for your particular application.

Otherwise, feel free to contact us here at Lancs Industries. In addition to steering you in the right direction, we may also be able to assist with customized protection for a particular job or situation.

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