Large scale nuclear disasters, such as in Fukushima and Chernobyl, have raised public concern over nuclear power and radiation exposure through medical procedures. However, most people are unaware that many household items and foods emit potentially dangerous radiation.
Public concern over radiation exposure has been heightened due to nuclear reactor accidents such as those seen at Fukushima and Chernobyl. This concern has led to increased resistance to nuclear power and reluctance to undergo radiation-based medical procedures. Though these account for major potential exposures to radioactive energy, we are exposed to many sources of radiation in everyday life.
Less known to the public is the fact that we are exposed to radiation daily by items in our environment. Cosmic radiation and radon gas released by rock and soil are sources of environmental radiation. There are also other sources of radiation present in our homes, such as household appliances, household items containing radioactive rock and the food we eat. Researchers investigated the significance of the household radiation typically seen in a suburban home.
Milvenan and Hayes studied the radiation levels found in a suburban home from typical household items and food. Their study, published in the Health Physics Society, used a standard government radiation detector to measure radioactivity. Readings were first taken in a standard sitting room without the radioactive material to get background radiation levels, and then with the various items present, subtracting background levels. The researchers measured bananas, avocados, a salt substitute used by people prescribed a low-sodium diet, an air filter, a smoke detector, brick and a measurement taken in a typical backyard. The items were measured three times a week for nine weeks before statistical analysis.
All the items were measured to emit radiation, but none were at significant levels compared to background radiation levels. Bananas, avocados, and the salt substitute all emitted radiation due to the presence of potassium, a radioactive element. Though they emit radiation, it is important to continue potassium consumption. Potassium is necessary for bodily function, and has been shown to decrease the likelihood of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Similarly, items such as air filters and smoke detectors are necessary for health and safety despite their radioactive emissions.
Items commonly present in a suburban house were measured for radiation. Their radioactivity was confirmed, but at insignificant levels compared to normal background radiation and annual public limits of radiation. The public should not be concerned about radiation coming from their household items, and the radiation exposure due to the household items is vastly outweighed by their health and safety benefits.
Written By: Wesley Tin, BMSc