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.
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:
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.”
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.
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.
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