Radiological energy is one of the methods of treating some diseases requiring radiotherapy, but besides treatment, the method can cause other complications in the body, writes Steve Dada
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently revealed that exhaust fumes from diesel engine could cause cancer. In a report by a WHO expert group, fumes from the exhaust were categorised as cancer causing agent, especially lung cancer and may also cause tumours in the bladder. It based the findings on research in high-risk workers such as miners, railway workers and truck drivers.
However, the panel said everyone should try to reduce their exposure to diesel exhaust fumes. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an affiliate of the WHO, had previously labelled diesel exhaust as probably carcinogenic to humans. IARC has now labelled exhaust as a definite cause of cancer, although it does not compare its risk levels.
Diesel exhaust is now in the same group as carcinogens ranging from wood chipping to plutonium and sunlight to alcohol. It is thought that people working in cancer-risk industries have about 40 per cent increased risk of developing lung cancer.
Dr. Christopher Portier, who led the assessment, said: ‘’The scientific evidence was compelling and the working group’s conclusion was unanimous, diesel engine exhaust causes lung cancer in humans. There are other human made items that are capable of causing other diseases, but not known to man. The only thing that is incontrovertible is the fact that some diseases that were alien to man in the past are becoming increasingly feasible, as major cause of deaths, yet no solution. It might even have to do with what man consumes.
The industrial revolution has come with attendant hazards causing some toxicity to human health and thereby endangering the health. What with industrial pollution believed to have caused so much damage to human health through inhaling of carbon monoxide believed to be most unfriendly to health. Fumes from common generator used as back up for electricity when Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) becomes fails to supply light, has killed many families who put the generator within the apartment where they sleep.
Even then, some medical equipment used to save life such as radio-active machines have been found capable of causing some complications other than what they are meant to cure. For example, some radiotherapy machines used to kill cancer cells in cancer patients can cause cancer to a person who does not have the disease but is unduly exposed to the radiation from the machine.
The Nigerian Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NNRA) is a Federal Government establishment charged with the responsibility for nuclear safety and radiological protection regulation in Nigeria. It also has power to provide training, information and guidance on nuclear safety and radiation protection. The regulatory authority’s task is to provide information about safety and regulatory measures without being promotional with respect to regulatory activities.
In her lecture at the Third NNRA Workshop on Nuclear Safety and Radiological Protection in Abuja recently, Dr. Ekaette Bassey of the institution defined radiation as a process in which particles with some energy travel through air or material (skin and glass water, among other), which has impact on the material through which it travels depending on its energy. Radiation is produced by matter which is generally called a source and this can be natural or artificial.
According to her, there are both natural and artificial radiation sources. Natural radiation sources include: environmental, air, food and drink, while artificial radiation include: medical treatment, consumer products and occupational exposure. Medical exposures from diagnosis and in treatment she noted account for the largest dose from artificial sources.
Talking about types of radiation, Bassey mentioned Alpha radiation, which she said has a short range in air and can be stopped by paper or skin. This type of radiation can also be hazardous and can enter the body by inhalation or ingestion, as large exposures can result in damage to tissues, but alpha particles can be stopped by sheet of paper or the outer skin.
She also mentioned Gamma radiation, which is highly penetrating for which only dense materials such as steel or lead can provide an effective shield. It can deliver significant doses to internal organs without needing to be taken into the body, but can pass through the body and even in some cases thick layers of the lead or concrete.
There is also Beta radiation that can penetrate further into materials or tissue, but can be stopped by plastic, glass or matal and does not normally penetrate beyond the top layer of skin but large exposures can cause skin burns and is also hazardous if it enters the body.
According to her, there are deterministic (short term) and stochastic (long term) effects of radiation. The health consequences of radiological accidents are death, loss of limbs, burns, while increased risk of stochastic effects can result to cancer. It also has environmental contamination and socioeconomic consequences.
Bassey warns that the public should protect themselves from radioactive sources, saying that to do so if one suspects an object as a radioactive source, such person should not touch or pick it up and should keep away from it by about 30 meters. She also advices such source should be cordoned to prevent access to it.
However, if such source is mistakenly touched, she advises that the hand must be kept away from the mouth and the hand must be washed before eating or drinking or smoking and immediately the NNRA or the police or emergency services must be notified.
For protection against effects of radiation, Bassey said it requires time, distance and shielding. According to her, time allows people to minimise or at least limit the amount of radiation exposure they receive, stressing that the longer the exposure time, the higher the radiation dose, as the relationship between time and exposure is linear.
Talking about distance and shielding, she said distance from a source is a very effective way to lower the radiation dose received. For shielding, radiation can penetrate further into materials or tissue, but can be stopped by some materials. The appropriate shielding can be used to decrease or minimise the radiation exposure, she noted.
She talked about some infrastructure for radiation protection and safety which include: International Basic Safety Standards (BSS) for protection against Ionizing radiation and the safety of radiation sources which defines the requirements that need to be met within a national infrastructure for radiation protection and safety.
One such requirement is to set up appropriate means of informing the public, its representatives and the information media about health and safety aspects of the activities involving exposures to radiation and regulatory processes.
The reasons for nuclear communication of the NNRA, Bassey noted, is to maintain trust and confidence that nuclear technology is being operated at appropriate safety standards, to facilitate the decision making process on nuclear matters by presenting factual and balanced information and to learn from society about their concerns and to address their concern (feedback).
The greatest challenges of NNRA are funding to provide the necessary infrastructure of operation to protect the public from dangers of radiological structures through necessary information, greater government’s attention and greater awareness on the part of the public about the activities and responsibilities of NNRA to the people.