Radioactive Materials

Radiation is a form of energy that is found in two different types – ionizing and non-ionizing – of unstable atoms. Although this energy cannot be seen, felt, smelled or tasted, we are exposed to radiation throughout our day. This occurs naturally (through cosmic rays from the sun or from common elements in our soil) or from man-made sources (such as x-rays, microwave ovens, cell phones, medical tests or treatments, electronic equipment, and power factories). 

Of the two types, ionizing radiation can affect the atoms of living things and is thereby a health risk. Here are examples of types of ionizing radiation:

  • Alpha particles – these heavier particles come from the decay of elements such as uranium, radium and polonium. These particles lack sufficient energy to penetrate the skin, so exterior exposure is not a concern. However, they can damage tissue if inhaled, swallowed or enter the body through cuts.
  • Beta particles – these small, fast-moving particles are emitted during radioactive decay. They are more penetrating than alpha particles but cause less damage to tissue or genes. They can typically be blocked by a layer of clothing or other thin substance, but may cause burns if contacting bare skin.
  • Gamma rays – these are weightless, high energy packets that can cause tissue and DNA damage when passing through the body. Dense material such as lead or several feet of concrete are necessary for blocking gamma rays.
Exposure to radiation does not automatically equate adverse health effects. The amount of time, the distance from a site and the existence of protective barriers all play a role in the amount of radiation (called a dose) an individual may absorb during an incident. A small dose of radiation is considered to be of very low risk to humans, whereas a high dose is more dangerous.

The St. Charles County Division of Emergency Management has developed a plan in coordination with area first response agencies that will respond to incidents involving the release or exposure to radiation. Detailed instructions relating to this plan will be distributed through local media, websites and other means at the time of an event.
What Can Residents Do?

A portion of this response plan requires cooperation and immediate action by area residents: 
1. Advice to "Shelter-in-Place"
2. Evacuation from an exposed area
3. If you happen to be outside at the time of an event, go inside and get clean:
    • Remove clothing and any other material that may have been exposed to radioactive material and seal these in a plastic bag.
    • Be careful not to breathe in any dust or particles while removing these items.
    • Take a warm shower and lather using soap. Be careful not to scratch or scald the skin. Use shampoo, but do not use conditioner on your hair.
    • If your pet was outside, put on waterproof gloves and a mask. Then, wash pets using shampoo and rinse completely.
    • Put on clean clothing that has not been exposed.
4. Listen for and respond to further information regarding the incident.