Radiation comes in two types, high energy ionising radiation (which is known to cause cancer) and low energy non-ionising radiation which is not known to cause cancer. It is very difficult to ascertain for exact likely effect of radiation doses to children but it is generally accepted that there is an increased cancer risk when exposed to radiation. According to the US Government website, Radon was a significant killer in the U.S and was estimated to cause in 2005 more deaths due to lung cancer than falls in the home, drink driving, drowning and home fires.
The main thing with radiation is limit UNNECESSARY radiation doses but to accept that in some cases an increased radiation dose (e.g. having a necessary medical x-ray) is a requirement with an acceptable risk level taking into account the risk of not having it done.
To protect your child from excessive radiation it is useful to understand the sources of radiation and the likely increased potential cancer levels.
Radiation is usually measured in the United States with the 'rem' , or millirem (mrem). In Europe it is the Sievert (S) or microSievert (uS). [100 rems = 1 Sievert].
It has been postulated that a dose of 1 rem (1000 mrems) gives 0.055% chance of contracting cancer.
The average dose in the US is 3.6mS (0.36rem) and in parts of the UK is 2.3mS (0.23 rem). The vast majority of this is naturally occurring radon gas.
Radiation Safety Information
Radiation can either be naturally occurring or man made. Limiting exposure to both sources is a good approach
Naturally Occurring Radiation Sources
- Cosmic Radiation : this is natural radiation from outer space and our sun which should be protected against on hot days with various clothing and a good brand of sun screen bought from reputable outlets. [US estimate 28mrem per annum]
- Terrestrial radiation : naturally occurring radiation in soil, rocks, drinking water, building materials etc. Radon gas is a particular concern which permeates through the ground and enters people's homes. Some areas have much higher radon levels than others [US estimate 28mrem non-radon per annum plus 200mrem of radon per annum]
- Naturally occurring human radiation emanating from inside our bodies. [US estimate 40mrem per annum]
Manmade Radiation Sources
- Consumer Electrical Items : TVs, smoke detectors, luminous watches. [US estimate 10 mrem per annum]
- Industrial Electrical Appliances : Pipe Weld X-Ray testing etc.[since only used in industrial situations & tightly controlled the US annual doseage estimate is negligible]
- Nuclear fallout from previous nuclear testing [US estimate negligible]
- Medical Radiation : Ionizing X-Rays/ CT (computed tomography) scans and screening tests are estimated at 40mrems per annum and nuclear screening medicines are 14mrems p.a.
Safety Tips to Minimise Exposure to Radiation
- Classic radiation dose minimisation theory states that there are 3 generic methods to reduce exposure:
- Reduce exposure time
- Increase the distance away from the radiation source
- Use better shielding
- In addition, certain engineering techniques can reduce the amount you are exposed to in the first place
- When moving house always check for radon in that area
- Ask the sellers if they have a three month radon test report. If they have done one then ask for a copy. If not, you need to consider negotiating a retention (talk to your solicitor) of which will be released after a satisfactory report
- If your home has high levels of radon gas this can usually be fixed by installing some engineering fixes for an estimated GBP500-GBP2500.
- When asked to take x-rays/CT scans make sure they are medically necessary. If they are it is probably still a good idea but make sure a previous scan cannot be used. Also ask your GP if ultrasound or MRI is feasible
- Children should get lower doses than adults when having scans, make sure your hospital buys into this and has a policy setup
If you are in a high radon area, ideally, move to an area with typically low radon gas! In the UK, you can get a radon map fairly cheaply which will let you know if you are in an affected area. An actual follow up test costs around GBP50 in the UK. In the United States, an estimated 1 in 15 homes is affected by high levels of radon gas. Australia is relatively unaffected. Look for something similar in your country.