We have all heard stories about harmful radiation and most of us surely fear the nuclear weapons many countries have in store due to the fact that these may lead to the extermination of the human race. However, all these factors resemble a futuristic science fiction movie which we hope will never become reality.
Yet, we are exposed to different types of radiation on a daily basis. Depending on the job we are involved in and the lifestyles we lead, we get exposed to various levels of radioactivity and this exposure has different effects on our health and overall well-being.
How Dangerous Is Radiation Exposure?
Before moving to dangers of radiation exposure we are best to sort the very notion of radiation out. Basically, radiation exposure can stand for several different things. First of all, it can be the high-ionizing radiation emitted by an object, leading to radiation poisoning once living beings get in contact with it. Secondly, the radiation emitted by an object may be non-ionizing, related to electromagnetic radiation. Finally, radioactive contamination is yet another form of exposure to radiation, where a substance one gets in contact with has unstable atomic nuclei, applying ionizing radiation after a long-term exposure.
Thus, we have different types of radiation existent around us, including the gamma rays, x-rays, the ultraviolet rays, visible light, infrared rays, microwaves, radio frequency waves and extremely low-frequency radiation.
So, different sources can emit different types of radiation. Yet, the crucial factor regarding any form of radiation is its harmful effect. Simply, if a radiation is ionizing, it can remove an electron from an atom or a molecule, leading to DNA damage in the cells, potentially causing cancer in living creatures. On the other hand, non-ionizing radiation cannot have this effect on the health of living beings, since it is not strong enough to remove the electrons or affect the DNA.
Therefore, radiation coming from a cell phone or your computer screen is not the same as the one you get exposed to during an X-ray scan in your health facility. Naturally, the latter is much more harmful due to its ionizing factors.
Unfortunately, most of the knowledge we have about ionizing radiation come from countless lost lives after the nuclear bombing of Japan and the accidental explosion of the Chernobyl power plant. However, this knowledge, gained through research and observations, helped us realize the true power of radiation.
Therefore, we know that ionizing radiation can and does trigger lung, skin, thyroid, breast and stomach cancers, along with multiple myeloma. Nevertheless, these are not the only cancer types which can be caused by exposure to ionizing radiation. Also, many factors such as age, geographical location and genetics affect one's proneness to ionizing radiation damage and the development of diseases which might stem from such exposure. Basically, the more one gets exposed, the higher the chances of damage are.
Even some forms of non-ionizing radiation are thought to lead to the development of cancer, even though such theories have not yet been proven.
Sources of Radiation
There are many sources of radiation around us, some more dangerous than others. For example, as far as natural sources are concerned, we get exposed to cosmic and terrestrial radiation. Additionally, if we get involved with metal mining and smelting, or coal mining and phosphate industry, we also get exposed to certain types of radiation. Furthermore, drilling for gas and oil, handling rare earth and titanium, ceramics and zirconium and many other such states of affairs, all get us exposed to natural radiation.
As for the types of radiation we ourselves cause, there are those made for peaceful purposes and those which are created in for causing harm to one another. We harvest energy from nuclear power production. During this process, we transfer the nuclear and radioactive materials from one place to another. On the other hand, we use such materials for military testing and, once we use them, they stay in the nature, emitting radiation called the nuclear fallout. All these forms of exposure trigger radiation and cause us harm, one way or another.
Speaking of individuals who get exposed to radiation on the job, we need to mention air and space crews, getting in touch with cosmic ray radiation, along with gas and oils. Again, those who work in power plants get exposed to radiation, as well as people who use radiation in medicine, industry or some other lines of work.
The power lines and electrical devices we get in contact every day, all produce specific types of non-ionizing radiation, along with the radio waves, cell phones and microwave ovens. Finally, when we get tracked by a police radar in traffic, this is also a form of radiation exposure. Yet, all these situations emit weak radiation, not capable of triggering any serious health issues.
To sum up, radiation is all around us. However, non-ionizing is usually the safe one while ionizing can lead to tissue damage or development of various forms of cancer. We need to know which sources of radiation are harmful and which are not in order to get protected and prevent any health issues which might stem from contact with radiation.