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Radiation refers to ionizing or non ionizing radiation.  Radiation occurs when energy from any particular source radiates or travels outward in straight lines in all directions.  Ionizing radiation occurs from sources such as nuclear weapons, nuclear reactors, and radioactive substances.  It may also refer to electromagnetic radiation emitted by radio waves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet light, and X-rays which can also be ionizing radiation, to acoustic or sound radiation, or to other more obscure processes.  Other sources of radiation include spent-fuel reprocessing plants, by-products of mining operations, and experimental research laboratories.  Increased exposure to medical X-rays and to radiation emissions from microwave ovens and other household appliances, even if of considerably less magnitude, constitute sources of environmental radiation.

Radiation pollution has a negative effect on human health.  The effects of radiation on human health depends upon the amount of radiation the person is exposed to, the length of exposure, type of radiation, age and health of the person, and also depends on the part of the body that was exposed. 

In addition, land exposed to radiation can become unfertile and unfit for farming. Radioactive nuclear waste cannot be treated by conventional chemical methods and must be stored in heavily shielded containers in areas remote from biological habitats.  The safest of storage sites currently used are impervious deep caves or abandoned salt mines.  No absolutely infallible storage method has been found yet.

In recognizing the potential hazards of radiation, Congress designated the EPA as the primary federal agency charged with the protection of people and environment from harmful and avoidable exposure to radiation.  The EPA’s Radiation Protection Program issues regulations and standards that direct the actions of other federal agencies, private industry, and states.   Regulations issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency shapes the program’s emergency response activities.

The EPA has adopted the following strategies to combat radiation pollution:  preparing for and responding to radiation emergencies; reducing radiation exposure through sound environmental radiation regulations; providing scientific and technical expertise for management of radioactive waste and contaminated media; developing and providing credible information to make effective risk-management decisions about radiation;  promoting responsible management of natural and man-made radiation sources and materials and encouraging safer alternatives; and, fostering a workforce that meets current and future challenges of radiation protection.  

Inside Radiation