In order to understand the magnitude of the harm of radiation pollution, basic information on how radiation works is provided in this initial section of our article.
Energy, usually the electromagnetic form, or that emitted by the sun is called radiation or solar radiation. Energy is transmitted, or travels, through space in different wave lengths, strengths, or intensities of electromagnetic fields (EMF). Electromagnetic energy can come from natural sources, like those that were built-up during thunderstorm formations and dispersed throughout the atmosphere.
However, solar radiation is not considered a form of pollution because it is naturally occurring. It is only capable of causing harm if one stays unprotected under its intense heat for too long. If we do, then too many of the charged particles of electromagnetic waves penetrate the human body, burn the skin, and damage the tissues and cells. The sun’s ultra violet radiations are within the shortest distance from the main source, hence they are the first to reach the Earth’s atmosphere.
What is Ionizing Radiation?
EMF radiation emissions come from human-made sources, like electricity coming from power outlets transmitted in wave forms, and in varying degrees of frequencies. The longer the wavelength means that there is a greater distance between the receiver and the energy source and therefore, the lower the strength or intensity of radiation received. In contrast, EMFs that have shorter wave lengths have a stronger impact.
EMFs become ionizing radiation if the former meets with an atom and charges every electron component of the atom, subsequently transforming the latter into electronically charged particles and becoming ionized. The human body, as a recipient, is vulnerable to the impacts of ionizing radiation.
What Makes High Levels of Ionizing or Non-Ionizing Radiation Harmful to Humans?
Ionizing radiation becomes pollution if it fills a particular environment with high-levels of electromagnetically charged particles or ions. The effects of ionized particles in the human body depend on how far or near the human is to the EMF source. A person who accidentally touches the electric energy power of an open electrical wire receives a surge of electric current in his body called electric shock, because he touched the nearest source.
In a state of pollution, we receive these electromagnetic shocks in low frequency doses as they are released in the environment to make our mobile phones, television screens, radio transmitters, electronic appliances and the whole telecommunication system work. Hence, we are constantly receiving low frequency charged electromagnetic shocks in our body, and the multiple occurrences by which we receive those electric shocks can affect our body cells and its natural chemistry.
Non-ionizing radiation would be the opposite, which means the EMF energy transmitted is not enough to cause a particle to become electronically charged. However, based on the definition of radiation pollution, the energy transmitted, whether ionizing or non-ionizing, is harmful because it is capable of entering human bodies and affecting our systems in the same manner, as if we were receiving low doses of x-rays and gamma rays coming from multiple sources.
What are the Sources of Radiation Pollution?
Electrical transmissions of energy to power our home appliances and personal electronic gadgets are considered sources of ionizing radiation. However, these are low levels of ionization, and their effects do not pose serious detriments to human health.
There are other man-made sources of radiation that pervade the environment with more intense capabilities to penetrate the human body. It is simply because the sources of these radiation emissions were basically and intentionally designed to be powerful enough and capable of releasing energy in a single powerful blast.
(1) Nuclear Weapons Testing Sites and Accidents
Nuclear energy released is called a nuclear explosion, and its effects can be both immediate and delayed but equally destructive. Its immediate effect is equivalent to multiple volumes of energy described as “nuclear fallout", and is powerful enough to blast and burn anything within one kilometer (about 0.62 miles) of its range. Those who receive energy released by its explosion from farther distances of about 30 km (approximately 18.6 miles) radius, or become contaminated by the fallouts near the blasting site, will sustain the delayed effects, or the nuclear reactions, in their body. The volumes of charged particles received by the body continue to react and in the process, create chemically reactive compounds called free radicals inside the human anatomy.
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Continuation of the radiation source (1) Nuclear Weapons Testing Sites and Accidents
The free radicals will subsequently destroy the human DNA and further disrupt the natural chemical compositions of the cells, often impairing the natural ability of cells to self-repair. The victims who received doses of radiation that went into a nuclear reaction inside their body have the potential to develop cancer, leukemia, mental defects, reproductive failure, and destruction of the immunity system.
Countries that have caused destructions to their own communities through their nuclear testing sites include the US, Russia, China, France, India, and Pakistan. Global estimates of cancer fatalities pursuant to the nuclear testing conducted by these nations are collectively placed at more than 2 million fatalities.
Solution or Remedies to this Problem:
Unfortunately, there are no solutions in the offing for this pollution source; inasmuch as the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 was ignored by these countries,. Actually, these countries are regarded as racing against each other in their aim to gain recognition for having nuclear weapon supremacy. Recently, North Korea has joined the fray.
(2) Nuclear-Power Generating Plants
Other sources of radioactive pollutants in the environment are received through the so-called “controlled release of energy by nuclear-power generating plants". These power plants do not release greenhouse gases but it appears that modern nuclear power plants release radioactive gases, like Carbon 14, tritium-carbon and krypton 85 in amounts that are traceable in the environment and form part of the atmospheric pollution.
Solutions and remedies to this problem:
- Modern gaseous abatement techniques are being applied, which involves filtrating the release by way of dry, high-efficiency particulate aerosols to eliminate actinide aerosols. Actinide refers to the series of radioactive elements ranging from numbers 89 through 103.
- Using wet gas scrubbing to remove soluble fission products like the harmful Cesium 137 radioactive waste particles. However, the disposal of Cesium 137 waste is said to be too expensive, and currently there have been recommendations to repurpose this nuclear waste substance. Suggestions offered are their use as irradiators to kill existing and remaining bacteria in packed meat, as part of the food processing. Many are, of course, against this.
- Using adsorption technologies to eradicate the unstable chemically reactive gases like iodine. Adsorption mechanisms in nuclear waste management are done by way of chemical reactions that aim to create chemical bonds between the adsorption compound and the harmful chemical emissions. This way, the latter can be captured for disposal as a radioactive waste. Another term used to refer to this technique in eliminating the harmful gases in nuclear power plant releases, is “ion exchange".
(3) Reprocessing Plants and Mines
Next in the list of pollution sources are the spent-fuel reprocessing plants and their by-products of mining operations. These by-products are not ordinary mine ores but radioactive ores like uranium and plutonium.
Solutions and remedies to this problem:
The use of nuclear fuel-cycle method is done by extracting the sediments of plutonium and uranium wastes from the spent-nuclear fuel. The captured sediments are chemically reprocessed to make the recovered radioactive ores ready for reuse in nuclear power production.
Please proceed to the next page for the last source of pollution included in our list: Experimental Research Laboratories
(4) Experimental Research Laboratories
Lastly, experimental research laboratories are considered sources of ionizing radiation, polluting the environment. EMF from electrical generations are also considered as harmful but not in the same levels as those used by research laboratories during their extensive research activities. Thus, this particular source of pollution has been singled out.
The strength and intensity by which laboratories make use of electricity to power up lab equipment increases the amounts of radioactive pollutants released in the atmosphere. This increases the Radio Frequency (RF) received during transmittal of energy for telecommunication and EMFs for electronic appliance purposes.
Accordingly, radio frequencies are transmitted through the use of ionizing radiations in the form of X-ray energy; hence, technicians are greatly exposed to high levels of RF‘s ionizing x-ray radiation, and they are, likewise, emitted by the research lab to the environment in greater magnitudes.
Solutions and remedies to this problem:
The use of RF shielding fabric curtains, windows affixed with RF shield foils, and beds with shielding canopies are the recommended solutions to those living in areas near cell phone transmission towers and research labs emitting these RF emissions in high level. In addition, avoiding the use of mobile phone and cordless phone equipment within the vicinity, since these devices may be making use of more biologically damaging pulsed digital signals is advised.
As of this date, these are the known sources of radiation pollution in our environment and it is saddening to note that not everybody is aware of these radiation sources.
Reference Materials and Image Credit Section:
- https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Radiation_warning_symbol.jpgRadiation warning symbol