Written By Tommy Li and Jerry Lau
Radiation is always around us and it is nearly impossible to escape exposure from it unless you surround yourself in a Faraday cage at all times. However not all pervasive radiation is manmade; we are surrounded by natural radiation from around the earth and radiation from space. Our bodies have adapted to this radiation over time. Nevertheless, the biggest threat to our health is manmade radiation, which must be regulated and observed at all times by government agencies.
In the United States, the governing regulatory body, the FDA carries out an electronic product radiation control program mandated by the Electronic Product Radiation Control provisions of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (1). The FDA has a designated department, Center of for Devices and Radiological Health, which tests electronic products and ensures that radiation emissions do not pose hazards to the public. One example of an emission standard is the one posed on television sets. The federal standard for television receivers is that they mustn't emit x-radiation over 0.5 milliroentgen per hour (mR/hr). Any television receivers that are found not to be in compliance with this standard are destroyed if not exported in ninety days (2).
But why were these standards put in place? Scientists have not found any identified specific health effects in humans from exposure to low levels of radiation over extended periods of time. However it is thought that there is not a minimum level of x radiation where it won’t negatively affect peoples’ health. With this in mind, the United States decided to put the standard as having the lowest amount of radiation emission as possible in electronic products (2).
There are many different types of manmade radiation. Human society has created many sources of radiation. First, the ionizing electromagnetic radiation from television receivers, accelerators, and X- ray machines from industrial, medical, research, and educational fields has influenced many of our lives. Second, particulate radiation and ionizing electromagnetic radiation from electron microscopes and neutron generators is non-negligible. Third, ultraviolet from biochemical and medical analyzers, tanning and therapeutic lamps, sanitizing and sterilizing devices, black light sources, and welding equipment is always a problem. The process of ionization can alter molecules within the human cells and may cause eventual harm like cancer. Intense and excessive exposures to ionizing radiation may lead to skin or tissue damage. Moreover, visible white light devices transmit radiation. And infrared lights and microwaves from alarm systems, diathermy units, and dryers, ovens, and heaters are inescapable (2). Modulated microwave radiation causes periodic alteration of the neurophysiologic parameters and parametric excitation of brain bioelectric oscillations (3). In addition, sonics and ultrasonics from sound amplification equipment and cleaners are a big part of manmade radiation.
Electronics play an essential part in our daily life. People living in the 21st century cannot run a day without them, so is the radiation. Although the government regulates radiation emitting electronic products, the purpose of them being made is driven by human nature and needs. Humans tend to create a problem in order to solve another problem. Looking forward and developing new strategies and technologies seem to be the only way out.
Hiie Hinrikus, Maie Bachmann, Jaanus Lass. (2018) Understanding physical mechanism of low-level microwave radiation effect. International Journal of Radiation Biology 94:10, 877-882. https://www-tandfonline-com.jerome.stjohns.edu/doi/abs/10.1080/15368378.2016.1251451?journalCode=iebm20
Exposure to radiation is inevitable currently due to the sources being part of our daily lives. Some everyday sources of radiation are electronic devices, drinking water, natural gas, consumer products, soil, radon, plane travel, medical imaging, and cigarette smoking. These are all pollutants that give off radiation and there isn’t much anyone can do about it. Radiation is expressed using mrem, which is a unit that measures the health effect of low levels of ionizing radiation on the human body.
One of the everyday electronics that emit radiation are televisions, which can be found in about every household in America. Television sets and computer monist contain a cathode ray that are capable of creating low level x-rays. Luckily for us, the FDA regulates any radiation emitting electronic products. The purpose of this is to prevent unnecessary exposure due to electronic devices. Medical devices must also comply with these regulations. Different types of radiation that the FDA check for are ionizing electromagnetic radiation, particulate radiation, ultraviolet rays, visible rays, infrared, microwaves, radio and low frequency, laser, maser, infrasonic, sonic, and ultrasonic waves.
Drinking water also emits radiation due to nuclear plants being located near large bodies of water. This can lead to water contamination and are monitored by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Consumer products such as cell phones, watches, clocks, lamps, etc. can also emit radiation. However, this radiation isn’t strong enough to have a known effect on a person’s health. This is what is known as of today and can change with more research and testing. Soil is also capable of emitting radiation because of radioactive particles found in soil. High levels of radionuclides in soil can contaminate water and food, but there are many agencies that regularly test supplies for radioactivity.
Radon is a radioactive gas that is not visible and cannot be smelled, but it can be found in homes due to decay of uranium in the ground and gets trapped within buildings. This can also be present in construction materials. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It can also be ingested with water or as dust particles. This is a dangerous form of radiation compared to what was already mentioned. Radon emits about 200 mrem in a year.
Medical imaging can also emit a major amount of radiation, but it depends on the type. X-rays generally emit about 10 mrem per screening. Mammograms can deliver about 138 per image. CT scans are the strongest as they emit about 1,000 mrem per scan.
It is important to keep in mind that radiation is something that exists as many people can often forget about its existence. There isn’t much we can do to change the emission of radiation, but it is good to stay mindful of the sources of radiation so we can try and limit them in our own lives.
1. Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “Does the Product Emit Radiation?” U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA, https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/classify-your-medical-device/does-product-emit-radiation.
2. “9 Everyday Sources of Radiation.” Health.com, https://www.health.com/mind-body/9-everyday-sources-of-radiation?slide=eeb5541e-9d20-4924-9a5d-74f37b31529a#eeb5541e-9d20-4924-9a5d-74f37b31529a.