Radiation is a form of energy that is produced from several sources and travels as rays, waves or particles. There are two general categories of radiation: non-ionizing and ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation comprises several types, including microwaves and ultraviolet (UV) rays. Ionizing radiation also comprises several types, depending on whether the radiation travels as a particle or rays. The most common types of ionizing radiation emissions are alpha, beta, x-rays and gamma ray.

Alpha particles can be shielded by human skin, but they can still enter the body through a cut in the skin, inhalation and/or ingestion. Beta particles can also be shielded by skin, but some need a thicker shield (like wood) to prevent them from entering the body. Just like alpha particles, beta particles can also cause serious damage to health if they are inhaled or ingested. Gamma rays are a highly penetrating type of radiation. They can penetrate paper, skin, wood, and other substances. To protect yourself from gamma rays, you need a strong shield such as a concrete wall. X-rays are also highly penetrating, but less than gamma rays.

Since certain types of radiation occur naturally, people receive some background radiation exposure every day. One example of this natural exposure is sunlight. There are several sources of man-made background radiation exposure, such as household appliances (including television sets and microwave ovens). However, beyond these expected levels of exposure, there are certain industries and occupational settings that can pose a risk for increased radiation exposure. Some of these jobs include: x-ray technicians; nuclear power plant workers; and uranium miners and processors.

Exposure to radiation can lead to short or long-term health side effects, depending on the type of radiation, the duration of exposure, route and amount of radiation absorbed. Short-term effects can include nausea or skin burns. Long-term effects can include damage to the lungs, bone marrow, and thyroid gland. Radiation exposures can also cause certain types of cancer. Since there are no tests to detect early signs of disease caused by exposure to radiation, monitoring of potential exposure in higher risk occupational settings is vital.

email image