With the serious radiation emergency that has occurred after Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, many are asking, “Could it happen here?” and “How do you prepare to deal with radioactive contamination and radiation exposure?”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) provides emergency preparedness and response information for radiation emergencies and steps you can take to limit radioactive contamination and radiation exposure.
According to the CDC, radioactive contamination and radiation exposure could occur if radioactive materials are released into the environment as the result of an accident, an event in nature, or an act of terrorism. Such a release could expose people and contaminate their surroundings and personal property.
While there may be little or no risk of radiation exposure for you or your elderly loved one(s) at present, it is wise to have learned and thought in advance about how to respond to such an event.
How Radiation Exposure or Contamination Can Happen
The CDC indicates that radioactive materials could be released into the environment in the following ways:
- A nuclear power plant accident
- An atomic bomb explosion
- An accidental release from a medical or industrial device
- Nuclear weapons testing
- An intentional release of radioactive material as an act of terrorism
How Radioactive Contamination Is Spread
According to the CDC, people who are externally contaminated with radioactive material can contaminate other people or surfaces that they touch. For example, people who have radioactive dust on their clothing may spread the radioactive dust when they sit in chairs or hug other people. “Contaminants can easily fall from clothing and contaminate other surfaces,” says the CDC.
In addition, people who are internally contaminated can expose people near them to radiation from the radioactive material inside their bodies. The body fluids (blood, sweat, urine) of an internally contaminated person can contain radioactive materials. Coming in contact with these body fluids can result in contamination or exposure, according to the CDC. “Making sure that others do not come in contact with body fluids from a contaminated person will help prevent contamination of other people in the household,” the CDC advises.
How You Can Limit Contamination
The CDC states that, “Since radiation cannot be seen, smelled, felt, or tasted, people at the site of an incident will not know whether radioactive materials were involved.” The Agency Advises, “You can take the following steps to limit your contamination:
1. Get out of the immediate area quickly. Go inside the nearest safe building or to an area to which you are directed by law enforcement or health officials.
2. Remove the outer layer of your clothing. If radioactive material is on your clothes, getting it away from you will reduce the external contamination and decrease the risk of internal contamination. It will also reduce the length of time that you are exposed to radiation.
3. If possible, place the clothing in a plastic bag or leave it in an out-of-the-way area, such as the corner of a room. Keep people away from it to reduce their exposure to radiation. Keep cuts and abrasions covered when handling contaminated items to avoid getting radioactive material in them.
4. Wash all of the exposed parts of your body using lots of soap and lukewarm water to remove contamination. This process is called decontamination. Try to avoid spreading contamination to parts of the body that may not be contaminated, such as areas that were clothed.
5. After authorities determine that internal contamination may have occurred, you may be able to take medication to reduce the radioactive material in your body.”
Read more information » CDC Radiation Emergencies | Radioactive Contamination and Radiation Exposure.