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Radioactive contamination

Hazard Knowledge

Two basic hazards arise when dealing with radioactive materials:

  • Irradiation, which is covered in Hazard – Exposure to radiation
  • Contamination by a radioactive material, which is associated with unsealed sources. This can cause harm through external or internal contamination, i.e. the subject is exposed to radiation while the material is present on skin or clothing or the source is ingested or inhaled into the body causing both contamination and irradiation.

Contamination arises as a result of an unsealed source (e.g. a radioactive powder, liquid or gas) being dispersed into the local environment and therefore having the potential to find a pathway either onto the surface of the skin or into the human body, usually via inhalation or ingestion. Radioactive materials inside the body are many times more hazardous than the equivalent amount of radioactivity outside the body and as a result they are mainly a problem related to internal exposure rather than external exposure.

See Foundation for hazardous materials for further information on radioactive sources.