Sources of Environmental Radiation

Radiation is the process by which radiant energy is transferred from one place to another in the form of electro-magnetic waves. The various types of radiation differ from one place to another by their frequency or wavelength. Higher the frequency or lower the wavelength of a radiation, higher will be its energy of the radiation, the more will be the damage caused to the living organisms.

The radiation induces the ionization of atoms and molecules. An atom is ionized when energy supplied to it separates one or more of its electrons. Ionization of a molecule produces two fragments.

Non-ionizing radiation is relatively long-wavelength electromagnetic radiation. Examples are: radio-waves microwaves, visible radiation, ultraviolet radiation, and they have very low-energy electromagnetic fields. Non-ionizing radiation is generally considered less dangerous than ionizing radiation. However, some forms of non-ionizing radiation, such as ultraviolet, can damage biological molecules and cause health problems.

Ionizing radiation is the short wavelength radiation or particulate radiation emitted by certain unstable isotopes during radioactive decay. There are about 70 radioactive to another. A radioactive is isotope typically decays through a series of other isotopes until it reaches a stable one.

Sources of Environmental Radiation

Sources of environmental radiation are both natural and human-made.

1 Natural Radiation

  • Radioactive mineral: The radioactive elements such as radium 224, uranium 235, uranium 238, thorium 232, radon 222, potassium 40 and carbon 14 occur in rock, soil and water. They are capable of emitting energetic radiations causing pollution.
  • Cosmic Rays: The cosmic rays contain highly energetic particles. They originate from the sun and from the distant galaxies. Upon reaching the surface of the earth, they cause pollution. The intensity of cosmic rays depends in latitudes and altitudes of the place. The intensity is maximum at the poles and minimum at the equator.
  • Radionuclides: The unstable radionuclides in the atmosphere split up into smaller part emitting radiation. The smaller radionuclides enter the body of an organism along with air during respiration.

2. Human-made Sources of Radiation

This includes mining and refining of plutonium and thorium, production and explosion of nuclear weapons, nuclear power plants, nuclear fuels and preparation of radioactive isotopes. The various sources of human-made radiation pollution are as follows:

  • X-rays and Radiation Therapy: Humans beings also receive radiation from diagnostic X-rays and radiation therapy for cancers.
  • Television Set: Television sets produce radiation which can also cause cancer.
  • Mobile Phone Set: Mobile phone sets produce radiation which affects our body. It affects our brain when we take it near to ear while talking. Similarly, it affects our other body parts when we keep it nearer to them.

Effects of Radiation Pollution

The effects of radiation were first noted in 1909 when it was found that uranium miners suffer from skin burn cancer due to radiations from the radio-active mineral. Different organisms show different sensitivity to ionizing radiations. For example, tests have shown that pine trees die when they are exposed to radiations but the oak trees continue to thrive comfortably. Radiation cause various disorders in the living organisms. Some of the disorders are as follows:

  • Radiation effects occurs in several months or even years after getting exposed to it. The effects are caused by the development of development of genetic changes, mutations, shortening of life span, formation of tumor, cancer, etc. The effect of mutations can persist in the human race.
  • The effects also include loss of hair, nails, subcutaneous bleeding, change in number and proportion of blood cells, changed metabolism, and proportion of blood cells, etc.
  • Radiation in bone marrow may cause leukemia.
  • Radiation may cause skin burns which may lead to skin cancer.
  • Radiation may also damage the fetus if pregnant women get exposed to it.
  • It has also been reported that high altitude plants have developed polyploidy (increase in the number of chromosome sets) as a protective mechanism against radiations.

Controlling measures of Radiation Pollution

The following preventive measures should be followed to control radioactive pollution:

  • Leakage of radioactive materials from nuclear reactors, industries and laboratories should be totally stopped and proper care should be taken to check the radiation pollution at source.
  • Nuclear reactors should be perfectly maintained to avoid accidental leakage.
  • The disposal of radioactive wastes must be safe. They should be changed into harmers for or stored in safe place so that they can decay in the harmless manner. Radioactive wastes that emit very low radiation only should be discharged in sewerage.
  • Nuclear tests should be banned.
  • Preventive measures should be taken so that natural radiation level does not rise above the permissible limits.

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