Every year, very many workers all over the world are injured, adversely affected or even die from the radiations emitted from the production processes in various industries. This has raised concern for the industrial hygienists, since radiations have posed a threat to the workforce and the community in general. Ionizing radiation has the most damaging effects to human health. Therefore, protection against such fatal radiation is necessary: the workforce should be protected as well as the community.
Generally, radiation is the means through which energy travels from one point to another. Other definitions define radiation as an energy that comes from a specific source and then travels through space. The various kinds of radiation include light from the sun, microwaves, heat or radio waves. These types of radiation are referred to as nonionizing radiation. There is another type of radiation is the ionizing radiation since they can produce charged particles in matter, which are also called ions. These ionizing radiations have effect on living creatures since they change the net charge of the environment, which in turn damages the inside cells of the living things.
Overview/history of radiation
In the mid of 1600s, Sir Isaac Newton had clarified all the lingering doubts and proven his founding theory on gravity (L'Annunziata 20 – 42). Around this time, several scientists had began their studies including Marie and Pierre, who were both studying chemistry and physics. Dimitri also introduced the periodic system elements around this time. In January 1896, Rontgen revealed the first X-ray the first photograph. The news of this new discovery spread throughout the whole world within weeks. Medical practitioners and professionals were fascinated by the penetrating properties of these rays and this led to the exploitation of these rays for medical purposes. However, this exploitation disregarded the possible understandings underlying the effects of these rays to living things. In 1896, Becquerel also discovered radioactivity and announced this discovery to the Academy of Science in Paris, France. In the early years 1900s, the study of radiation had already been accepted and several scientists endeavored in this study to establish the effects of radiation on living organisms and the possible solutions to the effects.
However, new technology and changes always come with new and great challenges a common phenomenon. The discovery of radiations was no exemption. Scientist who were pursuing the study of radiations found out that besides the importance of this discovery as a source of energy and its significance in medical laboratories, it also carried a potential threat to human health and other living organisms if it is not properly handled. The bitter part of this discovery is that, some of the scientists who were first involved in this study, eventually died from the effects of radiation, since they were unaware of the dangers the emissions from these radiations posed to their health. For instance, an assistant to Thomas Edison died of a radiation-induced tumor, which was caused by excessive exposure to X-rays.
As discoveries of radioactive elements increased, disastrous incidents of exposure to these radiations also intensified. An example is during the world war, where radium paint, which is composed of a mixture of phosphor and radium was used in the military aircraft instruments for making such instruments to glow in the dark so that pilots would easily see them when flying at night (L'Annunziata 89 – 112). After the war, the industry that supported this invention continued in existence, though they changed their line of business and were painting clocks that glow in the dark and watch faces. The women who worked in this industry pulled the freshly dipped brushes between their lips and swallowed radium unknowingly. This damaged their bodies without knowledge. This and other unfortunate experiences led to the awareness of the effects of these radiations and professional workers and this led to the foundation of a new branch of science called radiobiology.
Initially, radioactive materials were not recognized to be related to X-rays. In 1906, Henri who discovered radioactivity accidentally burned himself while he was carrying radioactive materials in his pocket. Pierre, another scientist produced the same burns on himself. In 1933, Lawrence E. and his counterparts completed the first full-scale cyclotron at the University of California at Berkeley. This particle accelerator was a plenteous source of neutrons, which Sir James Chadwick discovered in England. In his experiment, Lawrence and his collaborators exposed laboratory rats to fast neutrons that were produced by the cyclotron and realized that such radiations were almost thrice as effective in killing rats as compared to X-rays. By the time this nuclear reactor was first built in Chicago in 1942, more knowledge about the biologic effects of these neutrons had been noticed.
The nuclear reactor has been used as a major source of energy in the world. It produces large amounts of neutrons as well as several forms of radiations. This widespread use of the nuclear reactors and other sources of ionizing radiations led to the development of health physics, which deals with the damaging effects of radiation and seeks to protect human health from these effects. After the discovery of spaceflights towards the end of 1950s, some kinds of radiation form space and their effects on human health raised many concerns, which required much attention.
In 1915, the British Roentgen Society already put in place the first organized effort of protective measures, which ensured protection against exposure of excessive radiations such as X-rays. Americans adopted these British rules by 1922. Other organizations later followed and were addressing the same concern on radiation protection. Until the beginning of 1940s, radiation protection was a non-governmental responsibility. The government gained interest in this discipline after the Second World War. This was due to the development of nuclear reactors and atomic bomb, which are believed to cause much exposure. This led to the establishment of the Federal Radiation Council, which was responsible for advising the United States’ president on radiobiological issues and their relation to public health. It is provided guidance to all federal agencies when setting radiation protection regulations and standards. Finally, this council worked in collaboration with the States in relation to radiation issues. Radiation protection became part of the responsibility of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was created by the Congress in 1970 (Bert P.J. Hakkinen, et al. 213 – 320).
Units of measuring ionizing radiation
There are various units that can be used to measure ionizing radiation. The most ancient unit, the roentgen (R), is the amount of radiation that is necessary to produce a single electrostatic unit of one cubic centimeter of air under the standard conditions of pressure, temperature and humidity. Gray (Gy), is the principal units for measuring the dose of radiation that is absorbed in the living tissues. One gray equals to one joule of radiation energy that each kilogram of a tissue can absorb. The other unit that can be used to measure ionizing radiation is the rad; one rad is equivalent to 0.01 Gy. In order to normalize the doses of different types of radiation in terms of relative biologic effectiveness (RBE), the rem and the sievert (Sv) are usually utilized.
How does radiation affect living organisms, and therefore industrial hygiene?
Though non ionizing radiation has little effect on the living creatures, ionizing radiations have energy that can break chemical bonds and detach electrons form atoms. This usually changes the net charge of these atom that loose the electrons. When they loose the electrons, they are referred to as ions. Usually, atoms are better placed when they have a net charge of zero (0). Therefore, these charged ions are also referred to as radicals due to their cranky behavior. They are most likely to react with other atoms than the other atoms. Since the body chemistry of living organisms rely on a set of balanced chemical reactions, having such ionized atoms around might damage their inside cells. Severe damages might kill the cells while light damages might incapacitate these cells. Rapid damage of the inside cells, especially resulting from high doses of radiation in a short period, the body organs would start to fail in their performance and eventually lead to death. In case the damages are just light ones, the body cell have the ability to repair, however, this repair might not be as perfect as the initial cells were, and therefore wrongly repaired cells might lead to diseases like cancer.
Summary and conclusion
Several scientists discovered radiation and established the devastating effects of these radiations. The studies have provided substantial evidence that radiations have fatal effects to human health, with or without their knowledge. The employees who work in the industries that emit radiations suffer these fatal injuries without knowing. The communities within which these firms are located also suffer from the effects of radiation. According to an earlier mentioned research, women who work in this industry soon after world war, swallowed substances that led to death of a good number of them while other were diagnosed of cancer.
The effects of radiation, as discussed above shows that even small doses of radiation can cause malfunctioning of the human body. However, greater radiation might cause death. Therefore, in my future employment, I would ensure all the safety precautions are followed while working in order to reduce the exposure to the destructive rays. It is important that the government intervene in the employment sector, especially in those industries that produce harmful radiations. This could help protect the health of the employees. However, employees should also ensure they have proper qualifications before engaging in any form of employment in order to reduce the risks associated with ignorance.
In my opinion, despite the government regulations that might be set to control the employment sector in the aforementioned industry, it is critical that special interest groups such as non-governmental institutions, for instance labor unions, oversee the implementation of these laws. This is important in ensuring human safety and respect of employees’ rights, such as those related to work safety practices.
L'Annunziata Michael. Radioactivity: Introduction and History: Introduction and History. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2007. Print.
Bert P.J. Hakkinen, et al. Information Resources in Toxicology. Waltham, Massachusetts: Academic Press, 2009. Print.
Glasser Otto. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and the early history of the roentgen rays: Volume 1 of Norman radiology series; Volume 2 of Norman science/technology series. New York: Norman Publishing, 1993. Print.