A Small Dose of Radiation

  • An Introduction into the Health Effects of Radiation


Radiation Dossier

Name: Nonionizing Radiation

  • Use: power transmission, communication, LEDs, light bulbs, heating, cooking, microwave ovens, vision, lasers, photosynthesis (sunlight), mobile phones, WiFi, etc.
  • Source: ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves, radio & TV, mobile phones, power transmission
  • Recommended exposure: different depending on source, i.e. sunlight can damage skin
  • Absorption: depends on source
  • Sensitive individuals: variable, ex. fair skinned children (sunburn)
  • Toxicity/symptoms: depends on source. Solar radiation: sunburn, cataracts, cancer; microwave radiation: warming of skin or internal organs; controversy exists around exposure to low-frequency energy such as AC power lines
  • Regulatory facts: government regulates exposure
  • FDA and FCC set an SAR limit of 1.6 W/kg for mobile phones
  • General facts: long history of use
  • Environmental: our dependency on energy results in a range of consequences, for example drilling for oil and mining coal to run power plants to generate electricity, in turn mercury is released in the atmosphere from burning coal
  • Recommendations: depends on individual sensitivity; limit exposure to solar radiation (ultraviolet radiation); reduce energy consumption

Name: Ionizing Radiation

  • Use: nuclear power, medical x-rays, medical diagnostics, scientific research, cancer treatment, cathode ray tube displays
  • Source: radon, x-rays, radioactive material produces alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, cosmic rays from the sun and space
  • Recommended daily intake: none (not essential)
  • Absorption: interaction with atoms of tissue
  • Sensitive individuals: children, developing organisms
  • Toxicity/symptoms: damages DNA leading to cancer
  • Regulatory facts: heavily regulated
  • General facts: long history of exposure to low levels
  • Environmental: many nuclear cleanup sites contain radioactive waste that must be moved off site to prevent possible leakage
  • Recommendations: limit exposure, monitor workplace exposure where applicable

Radiation Chapter

PowerPoint presentation

More Information and References

European, Asian, and international Agencies

  • UK Health Protection Agency (HPA). Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards. "CRCE provides advice, research and services to protect the public from hazards resulting from exposure to chemicals and poisons, radiation both ionising and non-ionising and ultrasound and infrasound."
  • World Health Organization (WHO). Ultraviolet radiation. Site contains information on the global efforts to reduce UV (sunlight) radiation exposure.


North American Agencies


  • Health Canada. Radiation Protection Bureau. Health Canada provides information on the health effects of radiation for consumer and clinical radiation protection.
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radiation Protection. This site has a tremendous amount of information on ionizing and nonionizing radiation and environmental contamination.
  • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Radiation-Emitting Products. This site contains information on the health effects and regulation of radiation emitting devices and products. The mission of the radiological health program is to protect the public from hazardous or unnecessary radiation emissions from electronic products.
  • US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Cell Phones. Site contains general and regulatory information on cell phones and related technology.
  • US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Office of Engineering and Technology. Radio Frequency Safety. The FCC is required "to evaluate the effect of emissions from FCC-regulated transmitters on the quality of the human environment."
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Air Resources Laboratory. Site contains UV radiation monitoring information.


Non-government Organizations

  • University of Michigan. Radiation & Health Physics. Site contains information "written for three distinct groups: the general public, students and the health physics community at large."



  • Clark, Claudia. Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935. New York: University of North Carolina: 1997.
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