How Much Radiation Is Given Off By Your Household Items?

Bananas give off small amounts of radiation, thanks to the potassium they contain. Svetlana Serebryakova/Shutterstock

 

For some people, the mere mention of the word “radiation” conjures up images of nuclear apocalypses and mutant sewer rats, although the truth is that many of the everyday items in most people’s homes are actually radioactive. Given that we aren’t all spontaneously sprouting extra limbs or disintegrating into dust, the levels of radiation that surround us clearly aren’t particularly dangerous.

To help people understand that being radioactive doesn’t automatically make something a death ray, researchers from North Carolina State University have published a study revealing how much radiation is given off by a series of very boring objects.

“We did this study because understanding how much radiation comes off of common household items helps place radiation readings in context – it puts things in perspective,” said study co-author Robert Hayes in a statement. “If people understand what trace levels of radiation mean, that understanding may help prevent panic.”

Measuring both the gamma and beta radiation emitted by these items, the team calculated radioactivity in microgray per hour (μGy/hr), and have published their findings in the journal Health Physics.

Several different types of food were included in the study, as the potassium they contain gives off trace amounts of radiation. Avocados, for example, were found to give of 0.16 μGy/hr of gamma radiation, while bananas emit 0.17 μGy/hr.

Other, non-edible, items contain americium, which is also ever so slightly radioactive. As a result, house bricks were found to emit 0.15 μGy/hr, while smoke detectors gave off 0.16 μGy/hr and air filters released 0.17 μGy/hr.

To put this into perspective, Hayes explains that “regulatory level for workers – which is safe – is exposure to 50,000 μGy per year. The levels we’re talking about in your household are incredibly low.”

For a good visual representation, check out this XKCD chart from a few years back.

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