The ALARA principle: an essential in radiation protection that should be used to create cleaner technologies
ALARA is a safety principle commonly applied to ionizing radiation. This principle is predicated on legal dose limits for regulatory compliance and is a requirement for all radiation safety programs, but is not being properly applied in technology manufacturing to control the non-ionizing radiation generated by electronic devices.
ALARA is an acronym used in radiation safety that stands for “As Low As Reasonably Achievable.” The ALARA radiation safety principle is based on the minimization of radiation doses and limiting the release of radioactive materials into the environment by employing all “reasonable methods.”
This principle is largely followed in the radiology field to limit lifetime exposure to radiation in workers. So, traditionally, the concept of ALARA has been applied to the workplace and to protect the public from ionizing radiation. However, this principle can still be applied to respond against other types of radiation exposure.
ALARA is not only a radiation safety principle, but it is a regulatory requirement for all “radiation protection programs.” The concept is an integral part of all activities that involve the use of radiation or radioactive materials and can help prevent unnecessary exposure or overexposure.
How to apply the ALARA principle?
The three major principles to assist with maintaining doses “As Low As Reasonably Achievable” are time, distance, and shielding.
- Time: Minimize the time you spend near a radioactive source. Minimize your time near a radioactive source to only what it takes to get the job done. If you are in an area where radiation levels are elevated, complete your work as quickly as possible, and then leave the area. There is no reason to spend more time around it than necessary.
- Distance: Maximize distance to a radioactive source as much as you can. This is an easy way to protect yourself because distance and dose are inversely related. If you increase your distance, you decrease your dose.
- Shielding: Use shielding in presence of radiation sources. To shield yourself from a radiation source, you need to put something between you and the radiation source. The most effective shielding will depend on what kind of radiation the source is emitting. Some radionuclides emit more than one kind of radiation.
How do these principles work together?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you can see how these principles work together when you have an X-ray at your doctor’s office or clinic. The radiation technicians go behind a barrier while taking the image to protect themselves from the repeated daily exposure to radiation.
In the case of a radiation emergency, you can use these principles (time, distance, and shielding) to protect yourself and the ones around you.
- Time: If a radiation emergency happens, one of the best things you can do is get inside a stable building as quickly as possible.
- Distance: How long you need to stay inside will depend on the incident and the amount of damage to critical infrastructures, like roads and bridges. Once roads and bridges are cleared, emergency officials may instruct you to leave the area.
- Shielding: If you are in a multistory building, move to the center floors. If you are in a single-story building, stay in the center away from windows, doors, and exterior walls. You can also take shelter in a basement.
The clear difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation
Radiation is classified as either non-ionizing or ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation is longer wavelength/lower frequency lower energy. While ionizing radiation is short-wavelength/high frequency.
Ionizing radiation has sufficient energy to produce ions in the matter at the molecular level. If that matter is human, significant damage can result including damage to DNA and denaturation of proteins. This is not to say that non-ionizing radiation can’t cause injury to humans, but the injuries are generally limited to thermal damage and other long-term biological effects.
It’s important to consider that humans are not commonly exposed to ionizing radiation, with the exception of some workers that might be constantly exposed to it due to its work nature, like radiologists. When we are exposed to this type of radiation, it’s usually for too little time, for example, when we go for an X-ray. Even when ionizing is the most aggressive type of radiation, these short timeframes of exposure give our body the opportunity to use its own biological mechanisms to respond and recover afterward.
This is the big difference in comparison to non-ionizing radiation, which is everywhere every time. As we are always exposed, either immersed in telecommunication waves, WiFi signals, or the simple use of our many electronic devices, our body has no time to act against it or recover from its impact.
Can ALARA be applied to control non-ionizing radiation?
Historically, non-ionizing radiation was not considered as potentially harmful to health and even the highest levels were not taken into consideration as risks. But during the last three decades, many studies have certified that this type of radiation can, indeed, cause biological effects. Based on the evidence, the ALARA principle started to be considered as an acceptable measure to this type of radiation.
As wireless technologies’ use grows, the ALARA principle has definitely become one of the main aspects to consider when it comes to set protection measures for non-ionizing radiation emitted by man-made technologies. But, unfortunately, this is not the case now, as technologies such as cellphones are being manufactured under the principle of “the highest permissive level”, instead of “As low as reasonably achievable”.
In our opinion, ALARA should definitely be an essential part of the creation of a new standard of friendlier and healthier technologies and, nowadays, there’s enough knowledge and technologies to make this happen without affecting the functioning and the final purpose of mobile, wireless, and electronic devices in general.
But even when the ALARA principle is used, devices will still emit lower levels of radiation with electromagnetic disturbances that are incompatible with biological systems such as the human body and our environment. In order to completely eliminate these emissions, we, at NOXTAK, propose to use filtering technologies, such as SPIRO, that makes artificial EMF behave the same way as the natural field produced by the earth.
Based on the ALARA principle and the idea of incorporating filtering technologies, IGEF is creating a seal of approval, and EFEIA, a partner organization, has created an EHE (Electro Healthy Environment) certification program for Smart Buildings, Green Constructions, and Clean Technologies.