Radiation Emergencies: Radiation Facts
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By: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
What is radiation?
Radiation is a form of energy. It comes from man-made
sources such as x-ray machines, from the sun and outer space, and from
some radioactive materials such as uranium in soil.
How can I be exposed to radiation?
Small quantities of radioactive materials occur
naturally in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat,
and in our own bodies. Radiation that goes inside our bodies causes what
we refer to as internal exposure. The exposure that is referred
to as external comes from sources outside the body, such as
radiation from sunlight and man-made and naturally occurring radioactive
Radiation doses that people receive are measured in units called "rem"
or "sievert." (One sievert is equal to100 rem.) Scientists estimate that
the average person in the United States receives a dose of about
one-third of a rem per year. Eighty percent of typical human exposure
comes from natural sources and the remaining 20 percent comes from
artificial radiation sources, primarily medical x-rays.
What are the health effects of exposure to
Radiation can affect the body in a number of ways,
and the adverse health consequences of exposure may not be seen for many
years. These adverse health effects can range from mild effects, such as
skin reddening, to serious effects such as cancer and death, depending
on the amount of radiation absorbed by the body (the dose), the type of
radiation, the route of exposure, and the length of time a person is
exposed. Exposure to very large doses of radiation may cause death
within a few days or months. Exposure to lower doses of radiation may
lead to an increased risk of developing cancer or other adverse health
How can I protect myself from radiation?
The three basic ways to reduce your exposure are
TIME:Decrease the amount of time you spend near the source
DISTANCE:Increase your distance from a radiation source.
SHIELDING:Increase the shielding between you and the
radiation source. Shielding is anything that creates a barrier between
people and the radiation source. Depending on the type of radiation, the
shielding can range from something as thin as a plate of window glass or
as thick as several feet of concrete. Being inside a building or a
vehicle can provide shielding from some kinds of radiation.
Where can I get more information about
More information can be obtained from the following U.S. government
The Nuclear Regulatory
Commission can be reached at (301) 415-8200
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
can be reached at (202) 646-4600.
The Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS)
can be reached at (865) 576-3131 (ask for REAC/TS).
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
can be reached at 1-800-dial-DOE.