Radiation is a subject most of us know very little about, especially radiation side effects.
Here's a brief outline. Radiation is a form of energy. All living beings require some kinds of radiation just to live. Light and heat, for example, are two basic forms of radiation necessary for all life on Earth.
There are several different types of radiation. The term "radiation" actually covers a collection of several different types of visible electric and magnetic forces, gases or particles in the air.
These originate from 5 basic sources:
1. outer space
2. the Earth
3. the air we breathe
4. the food and drink we take
5. man-made sources
Radiation is basically classified as follows:
There are 2 types of radiation, "ionizing" and "non-ionizing", to denote its energy and danger.
Ionizing radiation is radiation with sufficient energy to dislodge electrons from atoms which is the basic building blocks of things. It thus changes the chemical properties of substance it interacts with.
Examples of ionizing radiation are:
The term "radioactivity" generally refers to the release of ionizing radiation. More specifically, it is the property of certain unstable elements to change (decay) and emit radiation.
Ionizing radiation may cause damage in living tissue. However, different types of radiation such as alpha, beta, gamma and X-ray differ in their ability to cause tissues damage.
Non-ionizing radiation is radiation without enough energy to ionize the atoms. Examples of this radiation and devices using it are:
Radiation can be natural or man-made.
Natural or background radiation
Radioactive material is found throughout nature. It occurs naturally in soil, water, and vegetation. All living things are constantly bombarded by radiation from space known as cosmic radiation. Everyone has radioactive materials inside their bodies from birth.
Artificial or man-made radiation
Radiation can also be produced artificially by humans. For example, X-rays in hospitals are produced electrically without using radioactive substances. The same is true for radio waves that transmit our radio and TV programs through the air.
Radiation can be both useful and harmful.
We see using part of electromagnetic spectrum that our eyes detect as visible light. Radiation is commonly used to diagnose ailments. Some people are treated with artificial radiation to cure disease. For example, medical and dental X-rays check hidden problems.
And a multitude of products that make communication convenient such as telephones and computers, are made possible with radiation.
However, various sicknesses and even death can occur to people exposed to certain levels and types of radiation. Several types of electromagnetic radiation are unwanted and detrimental by-products in electrical and electronic equipment usage.
For example, internationally many early pioneers of medical X-rays suffered loss of limb and life through overexposure.
Ionizing radiation is known to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. Large doses of ionizing radiation exposure, very much larger than background levels, can also cause a measurable increase in cancers and leukemia ("cancer of the blood") in later life.
Animal and plant studies indicate that it can also cause genetic mutations that affect future generations. At very high levels, radiation exposure can cause sickness and death within weeks.
To measure long term radiation exposure risks, experts use a standard unit of measurement called Sieverts, or more commonly thousandths of Sieverts or millisieverts (mSv). These units measure quantities called "equivalent dose to individual tissues" or "effective does to the whole body".
Based on British estimates, long-term fatal cancer risk is estimated to be 5% per Sievert of whole body effective dose. This means that an additional radiation dose of 5 mSv would add an additional 0.025% to a person's, say, 25% risk of dying from cancer. This would make their total cancer death risk 25.025%.
In real terms, radiation expsoure of 1 mSv (British estimates) means:
An abdominal CT scan gives a radiation exposure dose of about 10 mSv. This is equivalent to about 4 years of background radiation.
Based on Australian estimates:
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