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 Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) 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.