Radiation is dangerous for all living creatures. It might provoke serious diseases and DNA mutations. In large doses, radiation kills humans, animals and plants. Nearly everyone knows these facts — but hardly anything more. Scientists do not yet have a full understanding of radiation, its qualities and capabilities. Still, they can dispel some popular myths that surround this phenomenon. In this article, we will analyze a few urban legends about radiation that have proved to be 100% untrue.
People Should Avoid Irradiated Food
It is true only if we talk about large doses of radiation. But if products are subject to minute doses, it kills harmful microorganisms and helps to avoid dangerous bacterial infections — including those provoked by Listeria and E. coli. The food remains entirely safe for people. This sterilization method does not tell on the palatability of products but can prolong their shelf life.
Because of Radiation, a Сow Can Give Birth to a Two-Headed Calf
Yes, radiation might cause DNA mutations. Yes, sometimes living creatures might be born with repulsive body modifications. But are these two phenomena interconnected? We do not know for sure. If radiation adds an extra head to a calf, why does it happen with one animal only and not the whole herd or population? If the radiation is not to blame, what is the reason for the mutation? Scientists need to accumulate more data to be able to answer these questions.
Pop culture gladly exploits this myth about radiation. Spiderman obtained his supernatural abilities because a radioactive spider bit him. In the Marvel universe, radiation might turn people into monsters too. But you should not expect to see such drastic transformations in reality one day.
People Who Live Near Nuclear Power Plants Are More Prone to Cancer
If we measure the level of radiation around coal power plants, it might be three times higher than around their nuclear counterparts because coal contains radioactive thorium and uranium. Yet it cannot provoke oncological diseases because the dose is still too low. Many people are not aware of the fact that the earth’s crust naturally contains radiation too — and its dose might be higher than that of a power plant. A plant can turn into a source of dangerous radiation only as a result of an emergency.
People Who Live Close to a Nuclear Plant Need to Take Potassium Iodide Pills
This urban legend is based on the real fact that potassium iodide pills prevent the thyroid from taking up as much radioactive iodide as it could. The clean and harmless iodide fills up the thyroid gland so that there is simply no room for its radioactive counterpart to occupy. Otherwise, in case of emergency people might breathe radioactive air or drink contaminated water — and it would affect their thyroid. But if the radiation is already inside the person’s body, pills cannot help. Also, if you are afraid of the Chernobyl or Fukushima scenario, you should not rely on the pills too much: they are most efficient when taken a few hours before the disaster or just a few minutes after.
Only Human-Made Radiation Is Bad for Health
According to this myth, the natural radiation of the sun should be harmless. But this is not true. There is a lot of natural radiation in space — and it is absolutely identical to its man-made counterpart. If an astronaut leaves the spaceship without a spacesuit in an area with high radiation, it will kill them. Sun rays do not kill us on the Earth because the radiation dose that they contain is too small.
People Might Suffer from Headaches after a Dental X-Ray
The so-called “radiation illness” might cause nausea and vomiting. But a medical X-ray examination cannot provoke such an illness, regardless of whether it was dental or the patient underwent it because they broke a leg.
All Patients Diagnosed with Cancer Should Be Subject to Radiation
Radiation indeed helps us to cure oncological diseases. The doctor pin-points the laser at cancer cells at a certain angle and the radiation destroys them. If it occasionally affects healthy cells, it would annihilate them too. However, radiation is not equally efficient for all types of cancer. Doctors use it to get rid of solid tumors. Sometimes it helps to cure lymphoma and leukemia. But in case of metastasizes, when the disease spreads all throughout the body, radiation might be helpless. It might only relieve symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Radiation that a Person Receives During a Treatment Is Contagious
No, the patient will not be transmitting radiation to surrounding people. Yet they might need to spend a few days alone in their hospital ward immediately after the treatment. Children and pregnant ladies will not be allowed to visit them during this time.
Sometimes doctors put a radioactive implant inside the patient’s body so that it goes on destroying cancer cells after the treatment session. If it is a temporary implant, the doctor will take it out later. If it is a permanent one, it will slowly stop giving off radiation after a while. After coming home, patients with implants might need to take precaution measures, such as sleeping alone in the room, using individual towels and washing them separately, avoiding public transportation and contacts with pets and so on. But then, they will be able to come back to normal life.
The essence of all the myths mentioned in this article boils down to three statements. First, radiation can be deadly dangerous in large doses but might remain harmless or even beneficial in small doses. Second, radiation is unlikely to cause drastic immediate mutations like those depicted in movies or comic books. Third, there is no difference between natural and man-made radiation. Nuclear technologies enable us to get relatively cheap energy and perform efficient medical procedures. They become dangerous only when we neglect the precaution measures. To make the most of these technologies, we should remain careful and avoid trusting myths.