Common Exposures to Radiation

What are some of the most common exposures of/to radiation?

Gastrointestinal series (upper & lower)
Cigarette Smoking (average - several packs/day)
CT Scan (head & body)
Nuclear medicine examination of the brain
Average annual background dose to humans
Nuclear medicine examination of the thyroid
Barium Enema
Upper gastrointestinal tract series
Radon in average household
Dose to members of airline crews
Nuclear medicine examination of the lung
Computerized tomography of the head
Plutonium-powered pacemaker
Natural radioactivity in your body (120,000 pCi/L)
Cosmic radiation
Smoking Cigarettes (1 cigarette/day)
Consumer products
Using natural gas in the home
To spouses of recipients of certain cardiac pacemakers
Chest X-ray
Foods grown on lands (where phosphate fertilizers are used)
Road construction material
Dental X-ray
The use of gas mantles
Domestic water supplies
Living near a nuclear power station
Air travel (every 2006 miles)
(Cross-country flight)
Television receivers
Eating one-half pound of Brazil nuts
Combustible fuels (i.e.-coal, natural gas, liquefied petroleum)
Drinking a quart of Gatorade each week
Sleeping with one's spouse (or "significant other")

1,400 millirem per exam
1,300 millirem per year
1,100 millirem per exam
650 millirem per exam
620 millirem per year
509 millirem per exam
405 millirem per exam
245 millirem per exam
200 millirem per year
170 millirem per year
150 millirem per exam
110 millirem per exam
100 millirem per year
40 millirem per year
31 millirem per year
30 millirem per exam
15 to 20 millirem per year
11 millirem per year
9 millirem per year
7.5 millirem per year
6-8 millirem per exam
5 millirem per year
4 millirem per year
3 millirem per exam
2 millirem per year
1 to 6 millirem per year
1 millirem per year
1 millirem per trip
2 millirem per trip
1 millirem per year
0.5 millirem per bag
0.3 millirem per year
0.2 millirem per year
0.1 millirem per year


  • U.S. DOE Oak Ridge
  • 2004 DOE Annual Site Environmental Report Summary
Compact fluorescent light bulb (Krypton-85)
Salt Substitute
Airborne radioactivity from nuclear power plants
Common lawn & garden fertilizer
Loose leaf of spinach
Waterborne radioactivity from nuclear power plants

15,000 p/Ci per year
12,400 p/Ci per teaspoon
1550 p/Ci per year
130 to 50 p/Ci per 50-lb. bag
18 p/Ci per salad
14 p/Ci per banana
10.6 p/Ci per year


  • KAPL Analysis, 2000
  • NCRP Report # 95, Radiation Exposure from Consumer Products and Miscellaneous Sources, 1987
  • U.S. NRC Report NUREG/CR-2907, Vol. 14, Annual Report 1993

Most radiation comes to us from the sun and from cosmic radiation - so that people at higher elevations like Colorado and adjacent Rocky Mountain States receive more than those who live at sea level. However, a lot of radiation also comes from the soil and rocks around us. Granite and marble have background levels of radioactivity. A relatively small additional amount comes from our man-made technology.

Radiation level by source graph


Is a radiation dose of 620 millirem (or 0.62 Rem) in a year harmful?

No. No effects have ever been observed at doses below 5,000 millirem (5 Rem) delivered over a one-year period. In fact, effects seen when humans are exposed to 100,000 millirem (100 Rem) over a short time period are temporary and reversible. It takes a short-term dose of well over 500,000 millirem (500 Rem) to cause a fatality.

For more information on radiation and DHEC's role in response, contact:

Mary Nguyen Bright
Public Information Director
S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control
Nuclear Response and Emergency Environmental Surveillance
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, South Carolina 29201
(803) 896-4099 or 1-800-476-9677


Disaster Preparedness Radiation & Nuclear Safety