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Harmful Effects of Radiation


What is the definition of radiation?
Energy in the form of particles or waves is transmitted or emitted through a material medium or space.

Radiation consists of:

  • Electromagnetic radiation: Radio waves, heat, gamma radiation, x-rays and even visible light
  • Alpha, beta radiation, and neutrons are examples of particle radiation.
  • Seismic waves, ultrasound, and sound are examples of acoustic radiation.
  • Radiation from the earth's gravitational field

Ionizing radiation has enough energy to destroy the genetic material of live cells by affecting their atoms (DNA). Fortunately, our bodies' cells are incredibly effective at mending damage. A cell, on the contrary, may grow or die malignant if the injury is not treated properly. Acute health effects such as skin burns and radiation sickness (acute radiation syndrome) can result from exposure to extremely high doses of radiation, such as being near to an atomic detonation.

It can also have long-term health consequences, such as heart problems and cancer. Low-level radiation exposure in the environment has no immediate effects on our health. It does contribute to our overall cancer risk.

Acute Radiation Syndrome

A large dose of radiation given over a short period of time can bring out symptoms like vomiting and nausea within hours. It can sometimes lead to mortality in the days or weeks afterward. This is referred to as radiation sickness or acute radiation syndrome. Acute radiation sickness is caused by a high dose of radiation—more than 75 rad in a short period of time (minutes to hours).

This level of radiation is equal to having 18,000 chest x-rays spread across your full body in a short period of time. Acute radiation syndrome is an uncommon occurrence that occurs due to extreme events such as a nuclear explosion or the unintentional handling or rupture of a highly radioactive source.

Radiation and the Risk of Cancer

Low-level radiation exposure has no immediate health consequences. It can increase the risk of cancer over the course of a lifetime. There are studies that track individuals who have been exposed to radiation, such as atomic bomb survivors and personnel in the radiation business. Radiation exposure raises the risk of cancer, according to this research. The risk grows as the dose increases: the higher the dose, higher the risk. Radiation-induced cancer risk decreases as the dose decreases: the lower the dose, the lower the risk.

Radiation doses are commonly measured in millisieverts (international units) or rem (radiation equivalents). A dose can be calculated using a single radiation exposure or a series of exposures over time. A one-time uniform whole-body exposure of 100 millisieverts (10 rem) or below would prevent 99 percent of people from developing cancer.

Radiation in the Environment: Reducing Cancer Risk

The linear no-threshold (LNT) model is used by the EPA to set regulatory limits and nonregulatory guidelines for public exposure to low-level ionising radiation. The LNT model posits that the risk of cancer from a low-dose exposure is proportionate to dose and has no upper limit. To put it another way, halving the dose reduces the danger by half.

Routes of Exposure

Estimating health impacts requires knowing the type of radiation received, how a person is exposed (external vs. internal), and how long a person is exposed.

The danger of being exposed to a specific radionuclide is determined by:

  • The amount of energy it emits in the form of radiation.
  • The radiation's kind (alpha, gamma, beta and x-rays).
  • Its operations.
  • It doesn't matter if the exposure is internal or external.
    • When the radioactive source is outside your body, it is referred to as external exposure. Gamma rays and X-rays can travel through your body and deposit energy.
    • Internal exposure occurs when radioactive material enters the body by food, inhalation, drink or injection (from certain medical procedures). If large amounts of radionuclides are swallowed or inhaled, they can cause serious health problems.
    • The rate at which the radionuclide is metabolised and eliminated by the body after inhalation or intake.
    • What part of the body the radionuclide concentrates in and how long it stays there.

    Populations at Risk

    Radiation exposure is extremely harmful to children and foetuses. Children and foetuses' cells divide quickly, giving radiation more opportunities to disrupt the process and cause cell damage. When modifying radiation protection guidelines, the EPA takes into account changes in sensitivity related to age and gender.

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