Blog: The Healthiest Way to a Healthy You
by PaisleyH

Household Sources of Radioactivity

Radioactivity occurs when isotopes of certain elements emit subatomic particles as they break down. If these particles come in contact with tissues of the body, they can sometimes be dangerous to your health.

Date:   3/17/2021 7:12:43 PM   ( 3 mon ) ... viewed 23 times

Radioactivity occurs when isotopes of certain elements emit subatomic particles as they break down. If these particles come in contact with tissues of the body, they can sometimes be dangerous to your health. Most people are aware of radioactivity as a vague threat related to nuclear power plants, submarines, etc. However, there may be sources of radioactivity right in your own home. The levels are typically very low, meaning that the risk of damage is slight. However, you should be aware of these common household sources of radioactivity.

Smoke Detectors

Many homeowners are conscious of safety and the effects that their actions can have on the environment. That's why many opt to install a solar power system instead of relying on outdated turbines run by fossil fuels. However, a common safety device recommended in all homes may actually be emitting radioactivity. Americum-243 is a radioactive isotope that is crucial to the functioning of a smoke detector. The alpha particles they produce are large and low energy. You can shield yourself from them by holding up a piece of paper. However, because most homes have multiple smoke detectors, the collective dose of radioactivity is greater as a result.


Many fertilizers contain phosphorus as an ingredient because it is an essential nutrient for plants. Initially, phosphorus comes from phosphate rock. Processing this to manufacture fertilizer can leave behind radium, one of the first radioactive elements ever discovered. Plants grown with this fertilizer, including garden vegetables, can contain radioactive traces as a result. Growing tobacco with fertilizer can also cause radioactive material to build up in the leaves. These can be released into the air when a cigarette is ignited.

Box-Shaped Televisions

The old box-shaped cathode ray tube televisions have been all but replaced by sleek digital models. However, if you are still using a CRT television, you may want to consider replacing it to avoid exposure to radiation. Cathode ray tubes can emit low-level X-rays. If you want to keep using your old T.V., be sure to remain at least two to three feet away from the screen to prevent radiation exposure.

Glow-in-the-Dark Clocks and Watches

Waking up in the middle of the night and not knowing what time it is can be very frustrating. In the 20th century, manufacturers attempted to solve this problem by creating clock hands and watch faces that would glow in the dark. Until the 1970s, these watch and clock makers achieved the desired luminous effect by painting the surfaces with paint containing radium. Glow-in-the-dark watches and clocks still may contain radioactive isotopes, but the ones currently in use have a much shorter half-life compared to radium's half life of 1,600 years.


There may be radioactive material in the dishes that you use to eat and drink. Uranium and other radioactive elements were used in the manufacture of glassware and ceramics. This practice began in the 19th century before radioactivity was discovered, but it continued into the 1960s and 1970s, long after the possible effects of radiation were well known. Though the levels of radiation are low, eating and drinking from this tableware could potentially lead to greater exposure.

Radon Gas

Though not always present, radon gas is the single greatest radioactive threat found in homes. Odorless and tasteless, radon is a radioactive vapor produced when uranium in the rock and soil on which a house is built decays. Radon gets in through cracks in the foundation and porous building materials and can seep up through all levels of your home. Granite countertops can also contain small amounts of radioactive elements that may raise the radon level, though this is usually not the main source.

After cigarettes, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Every home should be tested for radon as one in 15 may have elevated levels. Radon mitigation requires the installation of special equipment.


The presence of radiation in your home shouldn't cause a panic. In many cases, though not the case with radon, the levels are so low that mitigation isn't necessary. Nevertheless, knowing the sources of radiation in your home allows you to make an informed decision about whether or not you want to eliminate them.

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