Radiation protection

Radioactivity in drinking water and food

Exposure to natural sources of ionizing radiation includes, among others, that deriving from the ingestion of radionuclides present in food and water intended for human consumption. This type of exposure, and it should be clarified, is attributable to radionuclides naturally contained in the earth's crust which, due to physical phenomena of different nature, end up in food and water. The United Nations Scientific Commission (UNSCEAR - United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation) on the effects of radiation estimates that, on average, about 12% of an individual's overall exposure to natural sources of radiation is attributable precisely to ingestion of food and water consumption.

This first source of exposure, due to radionuclides of natural origin, is superimposed on that attributable to anthropogenic radionuclides (present in water and food due to human activities).

The World Health Organization (WHO) does not differentiate between natural and artificial radionuclides in the assessment of the population risk but does so in relation to control strategies. But it is worth pointing out that the natural origin of radionuclides contained in water and food is not automatically associated with a lower risk; and generally, the radionuclides naturally present in the earth's crust, which end up dissolved in water and contained in food, contribute most to the exposure of individuals.

Special mention should be made of radon, a radioactive gas which can be found in water, especially in those of underground origin (groundwater and spring water), and which can easily change from the aqueous phase into the gas phase and accumulate in closed environments, including domestic ones. As a demonstration of this, of all the radon originating from a water source only 10% is ingested, and 90% is through inhalation.

The Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) and the Ministry of Health have specific tasks of addressing and coordinating the control of radioactivity in water intended for human consumption, as established by Legislative Decree 28/2016 (which transposed Directive 2013/51 / Euratom), and the subsequent decree of the Minister of Health of 2/8/2017. These decrees establish the requirements for the protection of the health of the population with regard to radioactive substances present in water intended for human consumption.