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Radiation in the World Around You: 5 Facts About Radiation in Your Everyday Life

Disclaimer: The U.S. Department of Education does not mandate or prescribe particular curricula or lesson plans. This information is provided for the visitor's convenience and is included here as an example of the many resources that parents and educators may find helpful and use at their option. See the full FREE disclaimer.

This feature was written by guest author Angela Shogren, public affairs specialist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Did you know that radiation is always present in the world around you? While you can’t see, taste, or smell radiation, you encounter it in some form every day of your life. Read some interesting facts below about radiation in your world and visit http://www.epa.gov/radtown to learn more.

  1. Cosmic radiation from space is constantly hitting Earth. Cosmic radiation makes up about 5 percent of annual radiation exposure of an average person in the United States. The closer we get to outer space, the more we are exposed to cosmic radiation. As a result, part of our exposure to cosmic radiation depends on the elevation where we live. With less atmosphere to protect them, people living in the mountains of Colorado, for example, are exposed to more radiation than people living at sea level. For this reason we are exposed to more cosmic radiation when we fly in an airplane as well.


  3. Some smoke detectors use a small amount of radioactive material to detect smoke. Smoke detectors are very safe and can help save lives. A specific kind of smoke detector, called an ionization smoke detector, uses a small amount of radioactive material to detect smoke. There is no health threat from the proper use of ionization smoke detectors in your home or school. Remember to change the batteries in your smoke detector every year, or as directed.



  5. Most of an average person’s UV exposure occurs before the age of 18. Even on a cloudy day you can get sunburned by UV radiation. With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, it’s important to limit time in the midday sun, seek shade when possible, always use sunscreen and protective clothing, watch the UV Index in your area, and learn more about Sun Safety.


    Source: U.S. Environmental Protecting Agency

    Childrent Playing in the Pool


  7. Radon is a radioactive gas you can’t see, smell, or taste, but it may be a problem in your home or school. Radon is the leading environmental cause of lung cancer in the United States. Radon moves up from the ground into buildings through openings in floors or walls that are in contact with the ground. Radon can accumulate in buildings over time and may pose a health hazard. Nearly one in 15 homes in the United States has a radon level that should be reduced. Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive. For more information about radon, its risk, and what you can do to protect yourself, visit EPA’s Radon webpage.


  9. Using radiation to kill bacteria and other pathogens in food is called food irradiation. 
    Food irradiation reduces or gets rid of bacteria and molds that spoil food and cause food poisoning and other illness. Irradiation preserves the nutritional value of the food and does not make food radioactive. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that irradiated food be labelled with both a logo and a statement that the food has been irradiated.


Learn more about radiation in the world around you at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s RadTown USA website. RadTown USA features content for students with information about different radiation sources, links to additional information, and games and puzzles. RadTown also provides Radiation Education Activities for middle and high school students (grades 6–12), which includes information covering radiation basics, sources of radiation, radiation protection, exposure versus contamination, uranium mining methods, radon, and more. Learn more about radiation in the world around you in RadTown USA!


This feature is based on a blog post that originally appeared on free.ed.gov, a site that is now retired. Please visit ed.gov/FREE for more information.


Last Modified: 12/1/2015