Radiation protection

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Radiation protection

Radiation protection

Humans are exposed to radiation, both by human activity and of natural origin. Exposure to radon in homes and exposures for medical purposes are the main sources of exposure to ionizing radiation in the population. Much attention is also aroused by the growing exposures to non-ionizing radiation related to technological media.

Since its foundation, the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS, the National Institute of Health in Italy) has always protected and promoted public health from the risks deriving from exposure to radiation, including their optimized use in the medical field for therapeutic and diagnostic applications. This activity is also carried out through national and international collaborations (e.g., since 2018, a WHO Collaboration Center on "Radiation and health" has been operating in ISS).

Radiation is characterized according to their ability to ionize the matter they strike, that is to modify the number of electrons of an atom, which corresponds to various possible damages to the exposed organisms:

  • ionizing radiation (X and gamma rays and subatomic particles, e.g. alpha particles)
  • non-ionizing radiation (low energy electromagnetic waves, ultrasound)
  • Ionizing radiation can penetrate the human body from the outside (for example, during a radiographic examination) or from the inside following the inhalation or ingestion of the so-called radioactive isotopes (e.g., the inhalation of radon present in homes or ingestion of isotopes present in food following contamination from nuclear accidents).

The information on this site is intended to help inform about radiation sources, exposure levels and related health risks, based on ISS research, consultancy and coordination activities.


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National center for radiation protection and computational physics

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Radiation protection

Radon protection

Radon is a noble radioactive gas, odorless and colorless, produced by the radioactive decay of radium.

Radon is present in different quantities in the indoor air of all buildings and mainly comes from the soil and, to a lesser extent, from the building materials (especially in case of thick walls).

Many epidemiological studies have found that continuous exposure to radon increases the risk of developing a lung cancer. The extent of the risk increases with the radon concentration level and with the duration of exposure. With the same exposure to radon, smokers are much more at risk than non-smokers, due to sinergy effects of radon and cigarette smoking. In Italy, exposure to radon is responsible (according to estimates by the Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) of more than 3000 cases (link to the Italian website) of lung cancer every year.

Since 2005, the ISS has coordinated the Italian National Radon Plan (promoted in 2002 by the Ministry of Health) and manages the National Radon Archive.

A new National Radon Action Plan is in a advanced stage of preparation. This new plan is required by the Legislative Decree 101/2020 that has transposed the European Directive 2013/59/Euratom on basic safety standards for protection from ionizing radiation.

As required by the Legislative Decree 101/2020 (art. 14, par. 1), the ISS provides information to the population about:

These and many other information on radon (actually available since 2013 in the framework of the Italian National Radon Plan) can be found on https://radon.iss.it (link to the Italian website) and they will be updated regularly. 
Protection from radon is one of the themes of the collaboration of the National Center for Radiation Protection and Computational Physics of ISS with the World Health Organization (WHO), within the WHO Collaborative Centre “Radiation and Health”, which is active since 2018. WHO documents on protection from radon can be found following the links below:

Guidelines and documents World Health Organization (WHO)

Handbook on Radon Indoor: a public health perspective 2009

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Dipartimenti/Centri/Servizi

National center for radiation protection and computational physics

Topics

Radiation protection Protection from radon