7 Common Sources Of Everyday Radiation Exposure

Unknowingly, our skin is vulnerably laid bare to radioactive elements that we can do nothing about. Surprising to the less informed, we are constantly exposed to some amount of background radiation. Yes, it’s everywhere—even as radioactive potassium inside our bodies. We may even internalize radionuclides by inhaling contaminated air, eating contaminated food, or drinking contaminated water.

When we think of radiation, we immediately associate ‘cancer’ with it. Firstly, all radiations are not harmful, leave alone carcinogenic. The ones we mean to refer to are ionizing radiations such as those emitted from radioactive materials. Secondly, exposure to radioactive materials doesn’t necessarily mean threat. Some radioactive substances can decay in a matter of days (iodine-131) while others take billions of years (the potassium-40 in our bodies).


Here are seven sources of ionizing radiations that we face on a daily basis…

1. Television



When electrons accelerated by high voltage in vacuum (like a cathode ray tube) hit a surface (like the phosphor screen of your TV), they may produce weak x-ray radiation. Older cathode ray tube (CRT) televisions may expose us to low levels of radioactivity which is a major reason why we were told to sit at a distance from TV screen. However, such low levels do not harm us in any way. To our relief, new-age televisions pose no such threat.

2. Drinking Water



Water sources (rivers, lakes, wells) near nuclear power plants horrifically can easily get contaminated with radioactive wastes discarded into or near them. Water may also get contaminated by surrounding soil that may naturally contain radioactive substances. In no way making us feel better, all water on the planet we proudly call home contains small amounts of ionizing uranium and thorium.

3. Soil



The earth’s crust innately contains radioactive elements. Cosmic radiations from outer space and man-intervened releases (like wastes from nuclear power plants) further enrich the soil’s radionuclide reserves. From the soil, ionizing elements can find their way into the walls holding up our homes through contaminated bricks and concrete, the soil in our backyards, and even the air we breathe (uranium can decay into radon, a highly volatile gas).

4. Food



All organic matter, including plants and animals, is tainted with small but nonetheless measurable amounts of radioactive elements like potassium-40 and radium-226. Consequentially, we naively ingest radioactive materials all the time through the food we eat. We’re talking bananas, carrots, red meat, and (apologetically) even beer!

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5. Flights


High altitudes (and not aeroplanes themselves) and varying latitudes can heighten our exposure to cosmic radiation from outer space. Frequent flyers, pilots, and flight attendants are the most susceptible.


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6. Medical Tests


X-rays, dental procedures, imaging techniques, and methods involving lasers are unsuspecting sources of harmful radiation. It makes us question why we willingly succumb to such procedures. It’s because the pros outweigh the cons. Even at comparatively higher doses of radioactive exposure, such radiations are not enough quantitatively to cause significant harm.

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7. Cigarette Smoke


The fertilizers that farmers use to nourish tobacco crops contain radium. Radium radioactively disintegrates to radon, a gas that seeps into the soil. Radon then clings to hairs on tobacco leaves and is soon rolled into a cigarette that finds its way to your lips. That’s extremely close exposure to radioactivity.

The intensity of radioactivity we are exposed to on a daily basis is not sufficient to cause us harm. Unless a nuclear bomb falls over your city, it is safe to say that you are safe. Having said that, it is best you minimize your exposure to potentially harmful substances to the best of your ability and within reason.