The effects of radiation pollution vary depending on the type and amount of radiation to which we are exposed and on the sensitivity of each exposed individual. Thus, while exposure to high amounts of radiation almost always generate serious diseases (cancer is the most common radiation-induced disease) or immediate death, serious life-threatening diseases may develop even from exposure to small amounts of radiation In these cases, the disease generally develops over a long period of time, especially in sensitive individuals (the genetic inheritance plays an important role in how sensitive an individual may be to radiation pollution). This is why there is no safe exposure limit to radioactive pollution.
Here are some general facts related to radiation exposure effects:
- Any amount of radiation may cause cancer, especially in sensitive individuals. Or, in other words, any exposure to radiation may cause some risk. Thus, it is always safer to minimize as much as possible the exposure to radiation!
- Cancer due to radiation exposure at lower doses usually develops years after the actual exposure.
- While the risk of developing cancer increases with the dose of radiation, risks may vary greatly between individuals.
Exposure to High Amounts of Radiation: Radiation Pollution and Cancer
Cancer generation is the most typical health effect of radiation exposure, especially when high or moderate amounts of radiation are involved (in general regardless of the exposure period). Lung cancer is a typical example of the effect of exposure to radon, which is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. (please note that the risk of developing lung cancer increases with smoking).
Thyroid tumors/cancer may also develop due to the effect of radioactive iodine that accumulates in the thyroid. This is why, when a radiation accident occurs, the intake of a non-radioactive dose of iodine is taken as a precaution in order to leave no space for the radioactive iodine to bind and accumulate.
Skin cancer may also develop as a result of prolonged UV exposure at tanning salons and/or beaches, especially since the ozone layer is increasingly becoming too weak to protect us.
The many years of monitoring of radiation effects from the detonation of nuclear bombs in Japan in the 1940s showed that cancers may develop immediately following the exposure to radiation, or after shorter or longer periods (up to 30 years from the exposure) after the exposure occurred.
Exposure to Low Amounts of Radiation over Long Periods of Time
The health effects of exposure to low amounts of radiation over longer times are not well-known, but the genetic material may be threatened through mutations with unpredictable overall effects. Thus, genetic birth defects and retardation are possible due to parent exposure. Also, other health problems may develop affecting the neurological, reproductive or cardiac systems. These may or may not be followed by cancer. Other factors may influence the development of diseases due to radiation.
Hypothyroidism may also be an effect of radiation, caused by the destruction of the thyroid gland by accumulated radioactive iodine.