Being from Ontario, Canada, living in the vicinity of the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station can make you feel uneasy at times. Although I don’t live close enough, there are residents who were just informed that they’ll be , just in case there’s ever a leak.
This created a little bit of a panic amongst those within the designated 10-kilometer radius, but what about those who are exposed to radiation on a daily basis? What about the individuals who work within radioactive jobs each and every day, like radiation therapists? Before we get into these specific careers, it’s important to understand what radioactive means.
Radioactivity is basically radiation in the form of alpha, beta, gamma, or other radioactive waves. When radiation comes from sources like the sun or an X-ray machine are strong and one’s exposure is long enough, health complications arise.
How radiation affects your health will mainly depend on the dose, as the energy that’s absorbed by your cells is what yields biological damage. The organ that’s exposed will also make a difference in terms of your future health. The human thyroid, for instance, is highly susceptible to radioactive iodine. In order to reduce the effects, exposed individuals can take potassium iodide.
At lower doses, between 5 and 20rem, you can potentially experience DNA damage. Once exposed to around 200rem, it may be fatal for 10 to 35 percent of the population. It’s a major concern that even low doses of radiation across the span of several years can significantly increase your risk of cancer. In fact, one long-term study examined 300,000 workers within the UK, the US, and France, and found that those who were exposed to years of low-dose radiation had an increased risk of dying from leukemia.
If you are currently working in a career that involves radioactive activity, it’s important that you know how to protect yourself. This list is by no means definitive, but it covers the most common radiation-related careers so that those who are exposed on a daily basis can take precautionary measures.
1. Pilots and Cabin Crew
Based on the connection that was made between pilots, cabin crew, and increased levels of melanoma, more commonly known as skin cancer, research was conducted in order to investigate. Since individuals within these careers spend a significant amount of time behind glass at 30,000 feet, they’re exposed to ultraviolet rays.
When tested and published in The JAMA Network, it was reported that one hour of flying is the equivalent of being in a tanning bed for 20 minutes. When pilots fly over thick clouds, for instance, windows may reflect up to 85 percent of the UV radiation from the sun. There are direct links in research between UV rays and skin cancer, so it’s important to protect yourself if you’re a pilot, flight attendant, and all other cabin crew.
Other than the obvious recommendations, such as covering exposed skin and wearing sunblock on your face, these measures aren’t as effective as they could be. Although more research will need to be conducted, astaxanthin could potentially be a promising and natural solution.
This is believed to be one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants, and various health experts have reported that they take it when they fly. It’s derived from microalgae which use this carotenoid to protect itself from UV radiation once water supplies dry up. It’s what gives krill and salmon their red coloration.
When initially studied on mice in Japan, those who were fed this compound experienced less damage to their skin when placed under UV radiation, in comparison to mice that had no form of protection. Once studied in humans, it was found that taking 4mg daily for three weeks allowed participants to stay in the sun longer, without getting burned.
2. Radiology Technician
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When getting X-rays at the hospital, you can’t help but think if it’s causing any negative effects internally. Although this is a practical concern, what about for those who are administering them? Luckily, technology has significantly improved and we now understand more about X-rays and human biology than ever before.
Unfortunately, however, those who were working within this career before the 1950s, are at an increased risk for a various types of cancers, including breast, thyroid, blood, and skin cancers. Today, radiology technicians, along with dentists, vets, and other individuals within medicine, are often exposed to some level of radiation. This is why it’s critical to take workplace safety seriously and always report any concerns.
Although there are still risks involved, a well-regulated and safe workplace can make a substantial difference. If you are not being supplied proper protective equipment and you’re concerned about your exposure, do not be afraid to speak up. You have the right to be safe in your place of employment and, although risks are a reality, your workplace should implement every possible strategy to ensure your exposure is minimal.
3. Baggage Screeners
You may view bag screening as an inconvenience, but your safety on an aircraft isn’t the only potential concern here. According to a report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, there were some concerning results regarding airport bag scanner personnel. After checking twelve airports, and observing both checked and carry-on baggage screening, radiation measurements were documented.
It was found that low doses of radiation were measured among bag screeners, with some exceeding the recommended maximum dose. Although 90 percent of the doses in which screeners were exposed to were below 1mrem (unit of measure for radiation), there were some doses which required further action to be taken in terms of safety.
Not only did some machines exceed regulatory radiation limits, but unsafe practices were also observed. These included instances such as reaching into the machine when bags were lodged and poor maintenance – for instance, missing curtain flaps and bent rods. Employees were told to use appropriate poles in order to clear bags and to always approach a supervisor if any machine malfunctions.
At this time, it appears that more thorough training is required and maintenance needs to be continually done. In order to avoid radiation leaks, instances such as missing curtain flaps should not be occurring. To reduce your lifetime cancer risk regarding your occupation, express any concerns you have to your supervisors about faulty equipment and specific airport practices.
4. Mine Workers
Uranium mines can potentially expose workers to radioactive elements, especially during decay. As uranium is mined from rock, it emits alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. The impact on one’s health will be due to the level of radiation, the type, and the ways in which they’re exposed.
To protect themselves, mine workers are required to wear a dosimeter, allowing workers to track the level of exposure, as well as protective equipment. By wearing this equipment, they can reduce their exposure to alpha and beta radiation, but gamma requires 40cm of heavy shielding such as lead.
Exposure to radon gas, heavy metals, and dust containing radioactive elements are all possibilities. Once you have reached your maximum exposure, you will not be able to work within a mine for a set period of time. This is critical as studies have shown a clear connection between uranium mine workers and lung cancer based on the inhalation of radon gas.
Although these studies are based on older work environments from past decades, and technology has improved, there is still a major cause for concern. Ensure that you fully understand the risks as well as the required procedures before exposing yourself to potentially life-threatening situations.
For the most part, these careers are safe and there’s no need to panic. If you are currently working within one of these careers, this is more of a reminder regarding risks and not intended to create fear or insinuate poor health. When it comes to cancer, your choices outside of work can just as easily increase your risk. Just as your lifestyle choices can affect your health, so can your decisions at work. Please just be aware of safety precautions and regulations in which you’re meant to follow.
When issues begin to arise, it’s generally due to individuals not following these recommended guidelines and procedures. Always ensure that your workplace is providing everything you need to maintain high levels of safety and low levels of risk. If you have any questions or concerns, please approach your health care provider or ask your local government for more information.