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The Dark Side of Strontium-90: Hazards to Health and Environment

Strontium-90: Harmful Effects on Health and Environment

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope characterized by its beta rays, high decay energy, and relatively long half-life. This isotope has a wide range of applications in medicine, industry, and energy production.

However, strontium-90 is also a hazardous substance that can cause serious adverse effects on health and the environment if not handled properly. In this article, we will explore the properties of strontium-90, its sources, and its effects on health and the environment.

Properties of Strontium-90

Strontium-90 is a decay product of nuclear fission reactions, which occur in nuclear reactors or during nuclear weapon tests. This isotope is also present in some nuclear wastes, including spent fuel rods.

Strontium-90 has a half-life of 28.8 years, which means it takes this long for half of the quantity to decay into its daughter isotope, yttrium-90. The decay energy of strontium-90 is about 0.546 MeV, which is high enough to cause ionization and damage to nearby tissues.

Strontium-90 Decay Chain

When strontium-90 decays, it produces a daughter isotope, yttrium-90, which is also radioactive and emits beta rays. Yttrium-90 further decays into zirconium-90, which is not radioactive.

The beta rays emitted by strontium-90 have a high penetration power, which can cause damage to tissues and organs if the isotope is ingested or inhaled.

Strontium-90 Source

Strontium-90 is produced during nuclear fission reactions, especially in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapon tests. During these events, the radioactive materials are spread into the atmosphere, soil, and water, contaminating the surrounding environment.

For example, some of the largest nuclear weapon tests conducted by the US and other nations released massive amounts of strontium-90 into the environment, causing significant pollution and health risks.

Effects of Strontium-90 on Health

Strontium-90 is a hazardous substance that can cause adverse effects on health, especially if ingested or inhaled. One of the main effects of strontium-90 is bone cancer, which can occur when the isotope accumulates in the bones and emits beta rays, damaging nearby cells and tissues.

Strontium-90 exposure has also been linked to an increased risk of leukemia. The beta rays emitted by strontium-90 can also cause softening of tissues, leading to various health problems.

How Strontium-90 Pollutes the Environment

The contamination of the environment with strontium-90 can occur in various ways. For example, nuclear weapon tests conducted in the past have spread large amounts of radioactive materials into the atmosphere, soil, and water, which can remain radioactive for decades or even centuries.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster were some of the recent events that resulted in significant strontium-90 pollution. The strontium-90 released during these events contaminated the nearby environment, causing health risks for the local population.

Conclusion

As we have seen, strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that can cause serious adverse effects on health and the environment. It is essential to handle this substance with care and to prevent its release into the environment.

Governments and international organizations should work together to regulate its use and storage and to minimize its impact on human health and the environment. By raising awareness of the risks and effects of strontium-90, we can help to create a safer and healthier world.

3) Strontium-90 in Human Body

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that can enter the human body in several ways, including ingestion, inhalation, or absorption through the skin. The main source of strontium-90 in the environment is nuclear fission reactions, which can lead to the contamination of soil, water, and air.

The human body can absorb strontium-90 through eating contaminated food or breathing contaminated air. Once inside the body, this isotope can distribute to different tissues and organs, causing adverse effects on health.

How Strontium-90 enters the human body

The most common ways that strontium-90 enters the human body are inhalation, ingestion, and absorption through the skin. Inhalation occurs when radioactive particles are inhaled, leading to the deposition of the isotope in the lungs.

Ingestion happens when contaminated food or water is consumed, and strontium-90 is absorbed through the digestive system. Lastly, absorption through the skin can occur when contaminated soil or water comes into contact with the skin.

The amount of strontium-90 that enters the body depends on various factors, such as the concentration of the isotope, exposure time, and type of exposure. Ingestion is one of the most common ways that the isotope enters the body, and it can lead to accumulation in the bones.

Distribution of Strontium-90 in the human body

Once strontium-90 enters the body, it can distribute to different tissues and organs, depending on its chemical properties. One of the most significant effects of strontium-90 in the body is its accumulation in the bones.

Strontium-90 is chemically similar to calcium, which means it can be deposited in the bones and can replace calcium in bone mineralization. This can lead to an increased risk of bone cancer and softening of the bones, making them more prone to breaking.

Apart from the bones, strontium-90 can distribute to other organs, such as the liver, blood, and soft tissues. The isotope can also be found in extracellular fluids, such as urine and lymph.

The distribution of strontium-90 in the body and its effects on health depend on various factors, such as exposure time, concentration, and the individual’s overall health.

4) Strontium-90 Uses

Strontium-90 has several practical uses in various industries, including medicine and technology. Due to its radioactive properties, strontium-90 can be used for radiation therapy and cancer treatment.

In industry, this isotope can be used for thickness gauging, radioisotope thermoelectric generators, and radioisotope tracing.

Medical Uses of Strontium-90

Strontium-90 can be used in radiation therapy for the treatment of various cancers, particularly bone cancer. Radiation therapy is a treatment used to kill cancer cells using high-energy radiation.

Strontium-90 is particularly effective in treating bone cancer as it is absorbed by the bones and can deliver a high dose of radiation to the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding healthy tissues. Apart from bone cancer therapy, strontium-90 can also be used for palliative therapy, in which the isotope is injected near the site of the tumor to relieve pain and discomfort.

Strontium-90 is also used for treating eye conditions such as pterygium, an abnormal growth of tissue on the eye’s surface.

Industrial Uses of Strontium-90

In industry, strontium-90 has several practical applications, including thickness gauging, Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, and radioisotope tracing. Thickness gauging is a non-destructive method used to measure the thickness of materials such as metals, plastics, and rubber, enabling manufacturers to maintain product quality and guarantee safety.

Radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) are devices that convert heat generated by the radioactive decay of strontium-90 into electrical energy. RTGs are used in spacecraft, satellites, and remote locations where other power sources are unavailable.

Strontium-90 is also used as a radioisotope tracer in industry to track and measure various processes, such as flow rates and mixing efficiencies.

Conclusion

Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope with commercial and industrial uses that present significant health and environmental risks. Strontium-90 can enter the human body through inhalation, ingestion, and absorption through the skin, leading to various adverse health effects.

Although strontium-90 can be useful in medical and industrial applications, its storage, use, and disposal require careful handling to prevent exposure to radiation and minimize environmental pollution. In conclusion, Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope that has numerous practical uses in medicine and industry, but it can also cause significant harm to human health and the environment.

The isotope can enter the body through ingestion, inhalation, or contact with contaminated soil, causing accumulation in bones, blood, and soft tissues. Strontium-90 contamination can also cause increased risks of bone cancer and leukemia.

It is imperative that organizations work together to regulate handling, storage, and disposal of this material to prevent exposure to radiation and environmental pollution. Ultimately, awareness and careful management are essential to prevent the severe consequences of Strontium-90 exposure.

FAQs

Q: What is Strontium-90? A: Strontium-90 is a radioactive isotope produced during nuclear fission reactions and is commonly used in medicine, industry, and energy production.

Q: How does Strontium-90 enter the human body? A: Strontium-90 can enter the human body through ingestion, inhalation, or contact with contaminated soil or water.

Q: What are the hazards of Strontium-90 exposure? A: Exposure to Strontium-90 can cause bone cancer, leukemia, and soft tissue damage, among other adverse effects on health.

Q: What are the practical uses of Strontium-90? A: Strontium-90 has various practical uses in medicine and industry, including radiation therapy, thickness gauging, and radioisotope tracing.

Q: How can we prevent exposure to Strontium-90 and environmental pollution? A: Strict regulation of the handling, storage, and disposal of Strontium-90 is necessary to prevent radiation exposure and environmental pollution.

Raising awareness of the risks and careful management are also essential.

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