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Everyday Radiation Exposure & Safety

Posted On: 03-24-2017
Everyday Radiation Exposure & Safety
There are many everyday sources of radiation. For example, a smoke detector uses americium-241, which is a low-activity radioactive element. The americium-241 ionizes the air that passes through the detector, making it conductive. Smoke is not conductive, so smoke sets off the detector. Another common source of radiation is hydrogen-3 (tritium) or promethium-147 used in modern clocks and watches. In ceramics, glass and pottery, uranium may be present. These everyday exposures account for about two percent of the radiation that you may be exposed to on a daily basis.

Medical Sources of Radiation

Modern medical technology makes use of radiation for the detection and treatment of many conditions. For example, a computed tomography (CT) scan can detect cancer in the body. A CT scan accounts for about 24 percent of a person's typical lifetime dose of radiation. Conventional medical and dental X-rays account for another 5 percent of your radiation exposure. Fluroscopy procedures account for an additional 5 to 12 percent of your exposure to radiation. If you need radiation therapy, this can be responsible for 12 percent or more of your total exposure. You and your doctor can weigh the pros of using radiation for diagnosis and treatment against the cons of radiation exposure.

Geological Exposure

Some parts of the United States have high levels of naturally occurring radon gas. Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that results from the decomposition of uranium in the soil. Radon can seep into the lower level of your home through tiny gaps or cracks in the foundation, around window frames and through plumbing and electrical conduits. Radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer after smoking. Exposure to radon accounts for 37 percent of your total radiation exposure. Places with a lot of clay in the soil typically have high levels of radon gas. For example, Columbus, Ohio, has naturally high levels of radon in its clay soil.

Protecting Yourself from Excess Radiation

There are many ways that you can protect yourself from radiation. Avoid old pieces of leaded glass and old clocks that are likely to contain higher amounts of radioactive uranium and radium. At the dentist, make sure that a leaded apron is placed over your body during X-rays. Have your home tested for the presence of radon gas. If high radon levels are detected, install a radon mitigation system.

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