10 Things Exposing You to Dangerous Ionizing Radiation

Not too long ago, people didn't know that ionizing radiation was a very harmful thing.  Because of that ignorance, many people got sick or died. 

In spite of the fact that ionizing radiation has helped humanity in a number of (albeit questionable) ways, the fact remains that it has also been responsible for much harm and destruction. In fact, some experts have predicted that ionizing radiation may ultimately be the cause of the end of all life on planet earth.  This is an inescapable conclusion if WWIII ends up, as is likely, involving a nuclear holocaust. 

Notwithstanding such a harsh prediction, at least we now know that ionizing radiation is dangerous.  Not only is it one of the best-established causes of cancer, but it is probably responsible for a number of other medical conditions, including damaging of the immune system and pre-mature aging.

Because ionizing radiation is so dangerous and because we haven't yet established a perfectly "safe" threshold for exposure--in other words, any exposure to ionizing radiation is potentially harmful--it's in our best interest to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation.  The word "unnecessary" is key because it's fair to say that it would be impossible for any human being to completely avoid any exposure to ionizing radiation.

In order to avoid as well as possible such exposure, it would behoove you to know, at the very least, what are the main sources of ionizing radiation.  While this list is by no means all-inclusive, these are probably the most likely places or sources of ionizing radiation exposure:

1.  "Ionization Chamber" smoke detectors/alarms.  Chances are that the smoke detectors in your home are "ionization chamber" smoke detectors.  Most of these smoke detectors contain Americium-241, a gamma-ray-emitting radioactive material.  Although the industry and government agencies (like the NRC) stress that this material is carefully enclosed and that the ionizing radiation emitted is too low to be harmful, you should still be wary about these devices

In fact, some critics assert that these devices are not as effective as the photoelectric smoke detectors (which don't use ionizing radiation); they also assert that the radioactive materials used in these devices come from the nuclear waste which would otherwise need to be disposed of at a great cost. 

Reminiscent of the use of fluoride-containing waste-by-products of the mining industry (fraudulently passed off as cavity-fighting "water fluoridation"), the use of another waste by-product (Americium-241) in order to make huge profits (by putting it in smoke detectors), while at the same time inflicting diseases (i.e., cancer) that also bring in huge profits to the medical/pharmaceutical establishment, makes perfect sense to anyone familiar with the money-obsessed mentality of both the government and the corporate worlds. 

For your part, don't buy or use ionizing chamber smoke detectors and, by all means, get rid of any you probably already have at your house.  These devices go off when smoke interferes with the steady flow of gamma rays that are emitted from them; logically, this means that ionizing radiation is continuously being emitted by the detector. 

Why would you want to be exposed to any ionizing radiation source when and if you aren't obligated to do so?

2.  Fluorescent car and plane dials and gauges, especially for older, made-before-1970 vehicles. It wasn't too long ago that several industries went "ape" about the discovery of radium.  This stuff made it possible to produce a long-lasting fluorescence that was, incredibly, self-powering.  This led to its being used on dials and gauges both in vehicles and in airplanes--albeit mostly for the military

People were able, because of these radionuclide-powered luminescent paints, to read dials and gauges in the dark, even if there was no source of power available.  Of course, people back then were clueless about the dangers of the ionizing radiation emitted by these luminescent paints and dyes.  In fact, it wasn't until 1970 that these paints were officially not allowed to be used. 

The problem is, though, that there are still vehicles (and some old airplanes still around) which still have these radioactive paints on dashboard devices.  Be especially wary if you have in your possession a military vehicle from the early 1900's to the late 60's.  Also, some countries may still be using these radioactive paints, in spite of the dangers involved.  Iraqi tanks captured in battle, for example, had radioactive-substance-painted dials in them.

3.  Radon gas.  Unfortunately, radon gas can be found just about anywhere.  In general, though, it's more likely to be found in basements and in houses or buildings built into or below ground level.  The gas can also readily be found in caves, sewer systems, underground railroad transportation systems, and in wells. 

This is one of the few naturally-occurring gases that are actually radioactive--as such, it emits ionizing radiation which has been connected in studies to lung cancer, although other medical problems may also be inflicted.  The gas can be found not only in the air but also in water. 

For your part, have your house tested for radon gas levels, especially before you buy a house, if someone in your house is suffering from lung cancer, or you have some other reason to test for radon.  Unfortunately, the gas doesn't give off any special odor but you can buy special detectors and radon-gas-presence-measuring devices that you can place inside your house. 

4.  Irradiated (used as a preservative) foods. Part of the problem with food irradiation is that most of the information in regards to the process (and its potential health implications) has come from highly-conflicted sources--i.e., government agencies whose staff have inappropriate close connections (probably involving financial gain) to companies manufacturing or selling food irradiation technology.  Additionally, not enough formal impartial studies have been conducted to properly and fairly evaluate the pros and cons of food irradiation. 

Like GMOs, food irradiation is, at best, a highly experimental and potentially dangerous relatively new technology.  What's more, too many experts are too quick to defend a technology which, quite frankly, they don't have enough scientific evidence to defend or promote. Additionally, it's not true that there isn't some strong scientific evidence to oppose or to at least be wary of irradiated food technology. 

More importantly, we do know that ionizing radiation is carcinogenic, teratogenic and pathological (i.e., it can induce disease).  Common sense also tells us that anything that is capable of destroying the tiny microorganisms that can cause disease is also able to damage equally tiny (and equally vulnerable) healthy human cells.  At the very least,  you as a consumer have a right to avoid something that potentially dangerous until and unless the process is proven to be safe. 

You also have a right to ask questions such as:

  1. Why do they insist on hiding whether food has been irradiated?  Officially, foods irradiated are supposed to be clearly labeled but that has sometimes been found to not be the case, especially for the many foods produced outside the US but sold in the US.  In addition to not clearly labeling irradiated foods, the food industry is said to often use deceptive terms like "electronic pasteurization;" some critics have also pointed out that terms like "flash pasteurization" (which, when correctly used, refers to a special type of graduated-heat type of food preservation) has also been misused to hide irradiation, but it's not clear whether these charges are true.
  2. Why was food irradiation not subjected to more formal, impartial studies (using humans, controls & lasting enough time to truly test carcinogenicity) before being approved?
  3. Why not let consumers (not the food industry and government agencies, each of which is run by people potentially profiting from the technology, regardless of safety concerns) be the final judges as to whether irradiated foods are sold to the public?  Like GMOs, though, food irradiation has pretty much been shoved down the throat (literally) of the public!
  4. In view of the fact that cancer rates have been worsening in most developed countries, why not seriously consider the possibility that food irradiation is a contributing factor to this on-going dilemma?
  5. Is the preservation of food more important than public health or, to put it another way, do the benefits of food irradiation (getting foods to last longer on shelves, making more food available to the public, keeping people safe from disease-inflicting germs, etc.) outweigh the potential dangers of rampant disease development--not the least of which is the development of cancer?  Considering that there is yet (officially) no cure for cancer and the fact that the treatments for cancer (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, etc.) are as likely (if not more likely) to kill you as the cancer itself, why should consumers take such a deadly risk with their health? 

5.  Radioactive agents & tracers used in medical imaging (as in PET or SPECT scans).  Once these radiotracers are injected, inhaled or swallowed, they emit an electrical signal which imaging equipment monitors and records.  These radioactive agents are "safe" because they, supposedly, leave the body while not leaving any traces of radiation behind.  

That may be true in a perfect world but, in the real world, there is always the chance that cells may be damaged while the radiotracer is coursing through your body; also, there is always the chance that the radiotracer (or some parts of it) may linger behind or even get trapped inside the body.  Even if the material's radioactive life is short-lived, there is still the chance for complications and mishaps

To boot, some patients can also have a reaction to the radiotracer, thus potentially further complicating possible scenarios. 

6.  X-rays, CT scans & other forms of ionizing-radiation-using medical imaging.  First of all, everyone should keep track (preferably in a medical information journal) of how many X-rays one has been exposed to since childhood.  Although some experts insist that the amount of ionizing radiation inflicted by one X-ray is minimal, the fact remains that there is no such thing as a "safe" amount of ionizing radiation. 

In theory, one single X-ray is capable of inflicting cancer. 

The odds, furthermore, worsen with each subsequent X-ray.  What's more, keep in mind that CT scans are the equivalent of many (several hundred) X-rays at one time.  Because ionizing radiation is so dangerous, it's important to greatly limit the number of X-rays and CT scans that you receive. 

When possible, insist on ultrasound and MRIs, neither one of which uses ionizing radiation. Just keep in mind that often the reasons for using the more dangerous ionizing radiation options (X-rays & CT scans) have more to do with financial than medical considerations/concerns; to put it more bluntly, while being cheaper (than MRIs) and more likely to be approved by insurance companies, CT scans don't necessarily provide better medical imaging.

In fact, both MRIs and ultrasound are better suited for soft-tissue imaging; X-rays are ideally-suited for hard tissue--i.e., bones.

7.  Solar or cosmic radiation.  Unfortunately, the earth is always being bombarded with ionizing radiation from space.  There isn't much you can do about this problem but one thing you can do is to keep to a minimum the number of times you take a plane ride. 

When you fly, you are exposed to higher levels of cosmic ionizing radiation.  The same may be said when you visit places (such as when you go mountain climbing) that are high in altitude; of course, this isn't as risky as taking a plane ride.

8.  Kitchenware & other products made from radioactive scrap metals.  Apparently, some governments don't see anything wrong with companies that use radioactive recycled metals to make household products for clueless consumers.  What they will tell you is that these metals are "only slightly radioactive" but, unless you test such yourself, there is no way for you to know whether you're being told the truth; besides, the painful truth is that even "slightly radioactive" things can be harmful in the long run.   

Incredibly, even utensils used for dining have been known to be made from these radioactive metals.  As you might guess, the manufacturers are not obligated to tell the public if they use such "hot" metals to make such things as pots, pans, eating utensils, metal rulers, and other metallic products consumers may touch, play with, dine with, or use in other "close-contact" ways.

9.  Radioactive seafood/products (including fish, crustaceans, seaweed & other sea-growing plants, sea salt, sponges, shells, etc.). Because of major disasters like Fukushima, many things in the ocean are now dangerously contaminated with ionizing radiation.  This includes important sea creatures which the world now depends on as essential food sources. 

Because of this on-going, ever-worsening problem, be very careful when consuming any kind of seafood, especially crustaceans (i.e., lobsters, crabs, etc.).  You may have thought that mercury was the only thing to worry about when it comes to seafood but, alas, that's not the case. 

Do remember, furthermore, that the problem isn't limited to fish and crustaceans; it can also include inanimate products often confiscated from the oceans (sponges, rocks, minerals, salt, sunken treasures, sea shells, etc.), as well as seaweed and other such sea-derived products.  

10.  Radioactive "antiques." These items may perhaps be the most surprising to some people; they may also be the ones that are most commonly found since so many of them were produced at a time when people were very ignorant about the dangers of radioactive glazing or coloring painting materials.  Simply put, a number of antiques (including dishes & decorative house items, clothing, furniture, and jewelry) were decorated using radioactive substances like uranium and thorium.  The four main categories involved were:

  • Ceramics (radionuclide-containing glazes were used until 1970)
  • Dials, watches & clocks (these were able to glow in the dark without the use of batteries; they contained radium or tritium)
  • Cloisonné jewelry (the uranium in the glaze gave these items their unique yellow, orange or off-white bright, luminescent colors)
  • Vaseline glass or canary glass (the uranium in the paint thereon was able to produce a very bright green/yellow color when a black (UV) light was directed at these)

The radioactive substances used may have made these items dazzling to the eyes but there was a heavy price attached to such "beauty" in terms of potential health hazards.  Keep in mind, as a matter of fact, that these items may stay radioactive for thousands of years!


Part of the problem with ionizing radiation is that many people are still woefully misinformed (if they are informed at all) about its potential health dangers.  Sadly, that misinformation is part of a scheme on the part of the government and private industries in order to protect the profitability of things like medical imaging, military weapons manufacturing, conventional cancer therapy, uranium (and other radioactive substances) mining, and nuclear power plants--or so some experts would argue. 

In other words, the public might voice more opposition to these things if the truth were known about the huge quantities of ionizing radiation all these things regularly emit into the environment and inflict on a mostly-unsuspecting global population. 

Many people, for example, aren't told that X-rays are undeniably dangerous and should, therefore, be used very sparingly.  Ionizing-radiation-using medical imaging can indeed save lives and no one is saying that we don't need it but, to be frank, the technology is over-used and its dangers are irresponsibly downplayed. 

To the irresponsible health experts who succumb to these dirty deeds we say:  "Stop telling people not to worry about such exposure because, supposedly, the amounts of radiation is "small" when we in the scientific community know that there is no such a thing as 'a perfectly-safe dose of ionizing radiation.'" 

People who defend these practices say that patients aren't told about the real dangers of ionizing radiation because doing otherwise would make patients unnecessarily fear medical imaging and, according to their cavalier attitude: "we are all being exposed to ionizing radiation on a daily basis anyway from natural sources." 

But that argument is like saying, "Since any of us may get murdered by a psycho or a group of terrorists at any moment, we should all go out and eagerly engage in all kinds of unnecessarily dangerous things!" . . . like hang gliding, dodging moving trains at the last possible moment, bungy (a.k.a., "bungee")-jumping, drag racing, and other such crazy, potentially fatal activities! 

It's precisely because we are all already being exposed to ionizing radiation that we need to actively reduce our exposure to it.  After all, the effects of ionizing radiation are cumulative, long-lasting and pointedly unpredictable.

Even if we can't completely get away from ionizing radiation, we can take steps and establish policies to greatly reduce our exposure.  Instead of using X-rays and CT-scans, for example, we can start putting more reliance on things like MRIs and sonograms, neither of which exposes patients to ionizing radiation. 

We can also cut back on how often we take plane rides, expose ourselves to things like radioactive antiques, fiddle with smoke detectors or consume seafood/products, especially if they come from Fukushima-imposed-radiation waters.  In other words, we have some control over these problems.

Here's the bottom line:  ionizing radiation is a dangerous thing.  As such, you need to avoid it, whenever possible, like the plague.  And, by all means, stop listening to all those so-called "experts" who are paid to downplay something that isn't as "harmless" as they would eagerly dupe you--if you let them!--into believing.

2/11/2017 8:00:00 AM
Fred Fletcher
Written by Fred Fletcher
Fred Fletcher is a hard working Consumer Advocacy Health Reporter. Education: HT-CNA; DT-ATA; MS/PhD Post-Graduate Certificates/Certifications: • Project Management • Food Safety • HIPAA Compliance • Bio-statistical Analysis & Reporting • Regulatory Medical Writing • Life Science Programs Theses & Dis...
View Full Profile

If people knew how much radiation they are exposed to on a daily basis they would be stressed out. You really can't escape the darn thing. But you're right, Fred, that if anything we all should be reducing exposure instead of telling people to not worry about it.
Posted by Dr. Dario Herrera

Related Keywords

Wellness.com does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor do we verify or endorse any specific business or professional listed on the site. Wellness.com does not verify the accuracy or efficacy of user generated content, reviews, ratings or any published content on the site. Use of this website constitutes acceptance of the Terms of Use.
©2023 Wellness®.com is a registered trademark of Wellness.com, Inc. Powered by Earnware