How large are the radiation doses that we are exposed to in our everyday lives and should we be afraid of them?
Each day, we receive tiny doses of radiation. From this article, you will get to know the most intense sources of everyday radiation and the approximate doses that you receive from each of them.
No matter where we live, we are exposed to radiation every day. Small doses of radiation come from space and the Earth. We cannot escape them but they are not dangerous for our organisms. Besides, many electric appliances, household items and even food products are radioactive too. To measure the biological risks of radiation exposure, professionals use the unit sievert (Sv). From this article, you will get to know how large is your everyday dose of radiation and what you should do to always keep it under control.
Medication examinations account for up to 96% of man-made radiation that we are exposed to in our daily life. Doctors carry out such procedures only when they are absolutely necessary. During a whole-body computed tomography, a grown-up person is exposed to 10-20 millisievert. The standard dosage for a thorax X-ray is 0.01-0.03 millisievert. If you undergo such examinations just once or twice per year, they will not tell on your health. Below, there are a few examples of radiation doses that would be harmful to the human body.
- A fetus exposed to 100 millisievert radiation might die or develop congenital malformations. 1% of the adult population might be diagnosed with cancer and leukemia after such exposure.
- 500 millisieverts are enough to cause erythema in a grown-up person.
- If an adult is exposed to a 1000 millisievert dose, they would feel it. They would suffer from nausea and might want to vomit.
- A dose of 3000-4000 millisievert can be lethal. 50% of individuals would die within 3-6 weeks if they fail to receive medical help on time.
- 8000 millisievert is the lethal threshold. If a person receives such an amount of radiation within a short time and gets no medical help, they will hardly survive.
However, it is highly unlikely that you would be exposed to radiation of 500 millisievert or more. This could happen only as a result of a radiological or nuclear accident. To get such a large dose, the person needs to be right on the scene of the accident when it happens.
Radiation in the Environment
Radiation can accumulate in the human body. This is why people should not live in areas where the radiation exposure is above average. During the first years or even decades, they might experience no health problems. But then, they will have high risks of being diagnosed with cancer.
The average annual natural radiation exposure in Europe and the US is around 2.1 millisievert. But it can fluctuate depending on where exactly you live. For instance, the average annual natural radiation in Atlanta is approximately 30% higher than in Denver. You would get the same dose after watching TV for 12 months non-stop.
It is a radioactive gas that might account for up to 1.1 millisieverts of the radiation that we receive in our houses. These are the components of our dwellings that can contain radon.
- Building materials
- Water supply
- Cavities inside walls
- Cracks in walls and solid floors
- Gaps in suspended floors
- Gaps around service pipes
- Construction joints
Over time, radon undergoes radioactive decay. It should not be deadly dangerous — but still, you might want to use a radioactive detector before buying a house or an apartment.
As for building materials, they do not need to have any flaws to be radioactive. Soil, minerals and rocks are radioactive by their nature. People use these raw materials to make granite countertops, cinder blocks, glazed tiles, cement, fire brick and red brick. Consequently, all these building materials become radioactive too. They might contain tiny amounts of uranium, thorium, radium and potassium.
Smoking is one of the largest sources of everyday radiation. The roots of tobacco plants uptake radioactive elements from the soil. Tobacco leaves absorb radon decay products from the air. When people process tobacco plants to produce cigarettes and cigars, they do not eliminate radiation. Smoke settles in the human lungs and might cause cancer over time. Those who smoke 1/2 pack of cigarettes every day are exposed to around 0.18 millisievert of radiation per year.
Bananas, carrots, white potatoes, raw lima beans, red meat, Brazil nuts and beer are among the most radioactive food products. Sometimes, you might hear about the so-called banana equivalent dose. It is an informal measurement of ionizing radiation exposure that equals 10−7 sievert. This amount is so tiny that you can eat kilos of bananas every year without feeling any radiation sickness. But when an importing company brings several tons of this fruit inside the country, the radiation alert at the customs might go off.
If you are a fan of vintage crockery, watches and decor items, you should be aware that they are most likely radioactive. Please never take apart radium watches or instrument dials. When you break an antique vase, get rid of it as soon as possible. Never eat or drink from ceramic tableware made of orange-red Fiestaware or Vaseline glass — if it chips, you would ingest uranium particles. In general, antiques do not pose any threat to human health as long as they are in good condition. But they were made in an era when people did not realize the detrimental effect of radiation and could not measure it yet. Old jewelry, clothing, furniture, books and toys might contain minuscule amounts of radioactive components.
When flying on a plane, we leave the Earth’s atmosphere and it does not protect us from radiation anymore. The longer the flight, the higher our radiation exposure. For instance, if you travel from New York to Frankfurt and back, you will get 0.1 millisieverts.
Every day, we are exposed to tiny amounts of radiation. It should not be a problem as long as there is no radiological disaster nearby. To make sure that the situation is under control, you might want to buy a radiation detector. To minimize your radiation exposure, you can stop smoking, avoid unnecessary medical examinations and take a plane as rarely as possible.