14 Effects of Radiation on Human Body & Environment

Radiation is an example of energy. It moves through the air as rays or particles. Dust, powder, and liquid are examples of materials to which radiation can cling. These substances have the potential to develop radioactivity, which means that they emit radiation.

Nearly every day, you come into contact with or are exposed to small doses of radiation. This radiation is produced by both man-made and natural sources, such as the sun’s rays (like microwave ovens and medical X-rays). These radiations don’t have a very negative impact.

But radiation events, like a nuclear power plant catastrophe, could expose you to higher, riskier doses. Different precautions must be taken depending on the type of radiation to safeguard our health and the environment from the effects of radiation while enabling us to reap the benefits of its many applications.

What is Radiation?

Energy known as radiation travels from one location to another in the form of waves or particles.

The energy that emanates from a source and moves through space at the speed of light is referred to as radiation. This energy has wave-like qualities and is accompanied by an electric field and a magnetic field. Radiation may also be referred to as electromagnetic waves.

Radiation can take the form of light or heat. Because it has sufficient energy to knock an electron out of an atom, the type of radiation covered on this website is known as ionizing radiation.

These atoms release extra energy or mass in the form of radiation in order to achieve stability. The two types of radiation are particulate and electromagnetic (like light) (i.e., mass given off with the energy of motion).

Examples of electromagnetic radiation include X-rays and gamma radiation. Examples of particle radiation include beta and alpha radiation. Another source of ionizing radiation is equipment like X-ray machines.

Radiation exposure is referred to as irradiation. When the whole or a portion of the body is exposed to radiation from a source, irradiation occurs. A human is not radioactive after exposure to radiation.

Effects of Radiation on Pregnancy

The majority of radiation exposures that a pregnant woman can experience, like those from diagnostic medical exams or work exposures that are within legal limits, are unlikely to have any negative impact on the fetus. However, exposure that is either unintentional or deliberate and exceeds legal limits may be of concern.

The risk of radiation exposure to the unborn child will depend on the following factors:

  • The radiation dose—smaller doses (amounts) are safer
  • The fetus’s age—the further along in pregnancy you are, the better
  • The location of the radiation exposure—tests on the abdomen or pelvis or where the radiation is carried in your blood pose a higher risk than other tests.

The effects of radiation on pregnancy include

  • Malformations
  • Growth Restriction
  • Mental Retardation
  • Carcinogenesis
  • Genetic Mutations
  • Miscarriage

1. Malformations

During the organogenesis stage of early pregnancy, the chance of abnormalities is increasing (2 to 8 weeks). The threshold for potential prenatal radiation damage in a fetus under 16 weeks of gestation is roughly 0.10 to 0.20 Gy (100 to 200 mGy, 10 to 20 rads).

After 16 weeks of pregnancy, this threshold is substantially higher, at least 0.50 to 0.70 Gy (500 to 700 mGy, 50 to 70 rads). The fetus is relatively resistant to the teratogenic effects of ionizing radiation beyond 20 to 25 weeks of gestation, or late in the second trimester.

2. Growth Restriction

A lasting physical development restriction was seen in follow-up data from atomic bomb survivors as radiation exposure increased, particularly over 1 Gy. When the exposure took place in the first trimester, this was especially clear. At age 18, the height decreased by 3% to 4% anytime the cumulative dose exceeded 1 Gy.

3. Mental Retardation

According to studies, the risk of mental retardation and microcephaly was highest between 8 and 15 weeks after conception, when the exposure took place. The anomalies were linked to improper neuronal development, most likely as a result of altered cellular differentiation, poor neuronal migration, and radiation-induced permanent cell injury.

In newborns of survivors exposed before 8 weeks or after 25 weeks post-conception, no cases of severe intellectual impairment were observed. With a threshold of 0.12 Gy (120 mGy, 12 rads) at 8 to 15 weeks and 0.21 Gy (210 mGy, 21 rads) from 16 to 25 weeks, the risk became apparent as a linear function of the dose exposed.

4. Carcinogenesis

Animal studies indicate that cancer-causing effects are frequently observed in late fetal development. When exposed to radiation levels of 0.01 to 0.02 Gy (10 to 20 mGy; 1 to 2 rad) during pregnancy, the risk of developing pediatric cancer, especially leukemia, rises by a factor of 1.5 to 2.

Similarly, babies exposed to radiation of 0.01 Gy (10 mGy, 1 rad) had a 0.3% to 0.7% higher risk of getting a childhood disease, particularly leukemia (non-exposed risk: 0.2% to 0.3%).

However, as non-exposed siblings of exposed children also have a greater leukemia rate, the evidence of carcinogenic potential at low levels of radiation is questionable. Furthermore, offspring exposed in utero to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions had a negligibly higher prevalence of carcinogenicity.

5. Genetic Mutations

Ionizing radiation may increase the frequency of naturally occurring genetic mutations, but since the rate of spontaneous mutations is already high—around 10%—it is difficult to detect such minute changes.

Research on radiation-induced mutagenesis has mostly focused on animal and plant models; little information about humans, except follow-up observations of atomic bomb survivors’ progeny, is known. In general, no human population has had ionizing radiation-induced mutagenesis shown at any radiation dose.

With regard to non-ionizing radiation from electromagnetic waves from computers, warming blankets, heating pads, microwave communication systems, microwave ovens, mobile phones, home appliances, power lines, and airport screening devices present a negligible risk to reproduction.

The literature comes to the conclusion that there is insufficient evidence to link a woman’s exposure to these sources with fetal loss or other poor reproductive outcomes.

6. Miscarriage

A miscarriage can also result from radiation exposure while pregnant. A baby in the womb dying before 20 weeks of pregnancy is referred to as this. Additionally, the embryo may fail to implant. In addition, there are cataracts, congenital malformations, and central nervous system disorders.

Effects of Radiation on the Human Body

Exposure to various radiation sources specifically affects particular body parts. The potential negative effects of radiation exposure on health are dependent on a number of variables.

  • The quantity of the dose (amount of energy deposited in the body)
  • The radiation’s capacity to damage human tissue.
  • Affected organ systems.

There are numerous exposure mechanisms that might lead to internal or exterior radiation exposure.

A radionuclide enters the bloodstream when it is inhaled, consumed, or otherwise comes into contact with the body (for example, by injection or through wounds).

Internal exposure ends when the radionuclide is expelled from the body, either naturally (via feces, for example) or as a result of medical intervention.

When airborne radioactive material (such as dust, liquid, or aerosols) is deposited on skin or clothing, external exposure may result. This kind of radioactive substance is frequently washable off the body.

Irradiation from an external source, such as medical radiation exposure via X-rays, can also lead to ionizing radiation exposure. When the radiation source is protected or when the subject passes outside the radiation field, external irradiation ceases.

The effects of radiation on the human body include

  • Hair
  • Brain
  • Thyroid
  • Blood System
  • Heart
  • Gastrointestinal Tract
  • Reproductive Tract

1. Hair

Radiation exposure of 200 rems or more causes rapid and clump-like hair loss.

2. Brain

Brain cells do not divide, therefore unless the exposure is 5,000 rems or higher, they won’t be directly harmed. Radiation damages small blood vessels and nerve cells, just like the heart, and it can result in seizures and immediate death.

3. Thyroid

Exposure to various radiation sources has a greater impact on some body areas than others. Radioactive iodine has the potential to harm the thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine can completely or partially damage the thyroid when used in high doses. The effects of exposure can be lessened by taking potassium iodide.

4. Blood System

The blood’s lymphocyte cell count will decrease after being exposed to about 100 rems, making the subject more vulnerable to infection. This condition is frequently called mild radiation sickness. If a blood test is not done, the early signs of radiation sickness may go unrecognized since they resemble flu symptoms.

5. Heart

Small blood arteries would suffer instantaneous damage from intense radiation exposure between 1,000 and 5,000 rems, which would very certainly result in heart failure and death.

6. Gastrointestinal Tract

Nausea, bloody vomiting, and diarrhea are symptoms of digestive tract lining damage by radiation. When the victim is exposed for 200 rems or longer, this happens. The body’s quickly dividing cells will start to be destroyed by the radiation. These damages the DNA and RNA of the remaining cells, which includes blood, GI tract, reproductive, and hair cells.

7. Reproductive Tract

Rem levels as low as 200 can cause harm to the reproductive tract since its cells divide quickly. Some radiation illness patients will eventually become sterile.

Effects of Radiation on the Environment

Because a nuclear power plant requires a high concentration of radiation to operate, it is well-recognized that these facilities release a lot of radiation that is hazardous to human health.

These power plants have the potential to malfunction or even have accidents, which would be extremely harmful to both people and the environment.

The environment comes in second to people in terms of the likelihood of harm being experienced.

Other types of radiation, such as those released after the explosion of an atomic or hydrogen bomb, are extremely hazardous to the environment.

The immediate area is completely destroyed as a result. Everything in its path is burned by the intense heat of thermal radiation, including people, trees, and buildings.

Animals, both domestic and wild, as well as agricultural plants, can become contaminated by dust made of dangerously broken atoms that are extremely radioactive.

Scientists can now estimate the environmental impact of a minor nuclear conflict thanks to radioactive leaks from the Chernobyl power station.

The radiation produced at Chernobyl is equal to nearly a dozen atomic bombs being detonated at a height that would result in the greatest degree of blast damage.

At Chernobyl, a fire that burned for 10 days emitted significant quantities of the radioactive particles iodine-131 and cesium 137 into the atmosphere. Living things are particularly vulnerable to the dangers of these isotopes.

Atomic bomb blast sites can release radioactive particles that can travel to nearby water bodies and contaminate aquatic life like fish.

In addition, berries and other plant life in the vicinity and woodlands would become contaminated due to the fallout from the explosion of several atomic bombs.

The generations of animals and people that followed pollution would likewise experience genetic alterations and sickness. For instance, Chernobyl’s forests have high concentrations of radioactive cesium in their wildlife. For many years to come, according to scientists, the contamination will not change.

Positive Effects of Radiation

The possibility that low doses of ionizing radiation could benefit biological systems is hotly debated. The favorable effects are occasionally observed. These beneficial effects have numerous and diverse expressions. The positive effects which are can not be used to generalize for a population and they include

  • The quickening of development or growth processes,
  • An improved rate of cell survival as well as the stimulation of repair mechanisms.
  • After being pre-irradiated with modest doses of radiation, cells’ sensitivity to high radiation doses is decreased (“conditioning”, also referred to as “adaptive response”).


As we have seen, radiation can be useful to both humans and the environment in a way that is beneficial to our survival and growth but these radiations can be very dangerous very capable of causing mutations and even cancer to humans and adversely affecting our environment.

It would be very needful for you and me not to find ourselves close to radiation sources and have scans only when recommended by a medical doctor.

14 Effects of Radiation On Human Body & Environment – FAQs

What is the stochastic effect of radiation?

Ionizing radiation's stochastic effects are chance occurrences, with the likelihood of an effect growing with the dose but the impact of an effect is unrelated to the dose. It is assumed that stochastic effects have no threshold.

What is the deterministic effect of radiation?

Ionizing radiation's deterministic effects (or tissue reactions) are directly correlated with the radiation dose absorbed, and the intensity of the effect grows with the dose. A threshold (on the order of 0.1 Gy or higher) below which a deterministic effect does not take place is normal.

What are the long-term side effects of radiation?

The long-term effects of radiation include

  • Cataracts.
  • Hair fall.
  • Loss of hearing.
  • Loss of memory It might be difficult to distinguish between memory loss or other cognitive issues caused by a tumor and those caused by radiotherapy, according to Dr. Nowlan.

The long term effects of radiation usually play out as a result of continuous exposure to small radiation over a period of time.


Editor at EnvironmentGo! | providenceamaechi0@gmail.com | + posts

A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.

One comment

  1. It’s great that you mentioned how exposure to a variety of radiation sources could affect particular body parts. I was watching a documentary yesterday and it showed some of the effects of radiation on the body. Thankfully, radiation is easier to deal with now due to some tools and measures, like personal radiation detection devices.

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