Major Sources of Radiation You Should Know

Major Sources of Radiation You Should Know

Posted by William Kimmell on 10th Jun 2022

People are exposed to natural and man-made sources of radiation every day. Natural radiation, also known as background radiation, is always present in our environment. Man-made sources of radiation come from medical, commercial, and industrial sources. Not all sources of radiation are harmful, such as low-frequency microwaves, power lines, and even your cell phone. Knowing these major sources of radiation will help you understand the detrimental effects of ionizing radiation. Radiation exposure becomes harmful if the radioactive elements in a source are ionizing. Ionizing means the radiation consists of particles or electromagnetic waves that are sufficient to ionize atoms and molecules in the human body. Ionizing radiation is harmful because it permanently alters the DNA blueprint of human cells and damages genetic material. Ionizing radiation can impair organ function, compromise the immune system, and result in death.

Most people aren’t at risk of ionizing radiation exposure, but nuclear events and the equipment advancements in the medical and industrial fields raise the risk of exposure to man-made radiation. Radiation monitoring devices help people locate contamination on a site or detect radioactive material in an atmosphere. Individuals at risk of ionizing radiation utilize these hand-held devices to locate a radiological or nuclear source. We receive radiation exposure in small doses every day, but the risk associated with low radiation levels is seemingly minimal. Explore the following guide to learn about the distinction between natural sources of radiation, man-made radiation, and the major sources of radiation we encounter in our daily lives.

Major Sources of Radiation

Background Radiation

Background radiation emits from natural and man-made radionuclides. Radionuclides derive from Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. Radionuclides exist in the human body from the food, water, and air we regularly consume. Background radiation levels vary depending on the amount of natural radioactive elements in a location. Background radiation is also a measure of ionizing radiation in the environment that is not caused by a deliberate radiation source.

Radionuclides in the Body

Our bodies are naturally radioactive because we routinely consume these radioactive substances that exist in the environment. The primary source of radiation in the body is inhaled radon gas. Most radionuclides that enter the human body are terrestrial. Other radionuclides found in the human body are thorium, uranium, and potassium.

Radionuclides From Earth

Terrestrial radiation is the natural radiation that emits from rocks. Radionuclides present during the Earth’s formation are primordial. Low-level radiation emits from Earth because of radioactive elements found in the rocks and minerals of Earth’s crust. The disintegration of rocks and minerals produces soil consisting of radioactive elements. Human activities, such as uranium mining, have contributed to the distribution of these radionuclides. Agencies routinely test soil for radioactivity to avoid radionuclide contamination.

Radiation From Outer Space

Radiation that occurs in outer space is called cosmic radiation. The particles and electromagnetic waves from outer space generate excess radiation and cosmogenic radionuclides that penetrate Earth’s atmosphere. Cosmogenic radionuclides consist of tritium, carbon, and beryllium. The radiation approaches our planet’s surface at the poles, where the magnetic field is weakest and the atmosphere is thinnest. The radiation dose that reaches people depends on the latitude and altitude of their geographic location. Astronauts who travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere and the protective shield it provides experience the most extreme form of cosmic radiation exposure.

Radiation in Our Daily Lives

Plane Travel

Cosmic radiation from outer space typically doesn’t threaten us because we’re shielded by Earth’s atmosphere. When traveling by plane, we are no longer under the protection of the atmosphere, and are exposed to low levels of radiation. Being at a high altitude increases your radiation exposure, but the levels are minimal. An average flight from the east coast to the west coast in the US exposes you to lower levels of radiation than a standard chest x-ray. Radiation exposure levels naturally increase for individuals who frequently fly or work for airlines that require frequent plane travel. You’re also exposed to higher doses of radiation when you are further north or south of the equator. Even if you don’t travel by plane, cosmic radiation exposure makes up eleven percent of a person’s radiation exposure per year.

Medical Imaging

The advancements in x-ray technology and other medical instruments have saved patients from undergoing exploratory surgery and other invasive procedures to identify internal health issues. The cost of these advancements is an increase in radiation exposure. The medical use of radioactive equipment accounts for the largest increase in the population’s overall exposure to radiation in the last decade. Naturally, people with chronic health issues and older individuals make up the demographic that receives the highest amount of radiation exposure. High-diagnostic imaging is an alternative route for reducing a patient’s radiation exposure if considered applicable by their healthcare provider. The present consensus on medical imaging risks is that they are low and do not outweigh the benefits of a CT scan or nuclear imaging.

Household Gadgets

A variety of household gadgets we use are responsible for a percentage of our radiation exposure. Cell phones, smoke detectors, watches, fluorescent lamps, and even some forms of ceramic emit low levels of radiofrequency energy. Radiofrequency energy is a form of non-ionizing radiation we are exposed to through frequent use of these devices. While we know our everyday devices emit radiation, understanding how these levels affect our long-term health is incomplete. Outside of household gadgets, other forms of radiation exposure derive from consumer products used in the occupational and industrial fields. People who work in certain environments every day are at risk of radiation exposure from the operation of nuclear-powered or coal-burning power plants that emit from the worksite.

As with any health practice, it’s important to stay informed about radiation and its proven effects on the body. In the meantime, it’s crucial to practice safety procedures around limiting radiation exposure through technology and monitoring devices. TG Technical Services is here to provide you with top-quality radiation detecting technology to improve the health and safety of your environment. Explore our broad range of radiation monitoring devices to take control of your health by monitoring and limiting your radiation exposure.

Major Sources of Radiation You Should Know