Introduction – Radioactivity is a phenomenon in which the nuclei of atoms of certain unstable elements undergo spontaneous disintegration and emit alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. The gamma rays emitted by radioactive substances are a kind of electromagnetic radiation having very high energy and they are extremely harmful to living organisms. The pollution produced by radioactive substances is a special type of physical pollution which can pollute all the major supporting systems of the earth such as water, air, and soil.
Sources of radioactive pollution – The sources of radioactive pollution are of two types – natural and man-made. The natural sources of radioactive pollution are mainly the naturally occurring radioactive elements and their compounds. For example, radioactive elements such as uranium-235, uranium-238, radium-224, thorium-232, radon-222, potassium-40, and carbon-14 occur in rocks, water bodies, and soil. Some of the human activities which can be the source of radioactive pollution are leakage from the reactors of nuclear power plants, production and explosion of nuclear weapons, mining and refining of radioactive materials, treatment of cancer by gamma radiations, and preparation of radioactive isotopes.
Effects of Radioactive Pollution – Radioactive pollution negatively affects all living organisms due to the ionizing nuclear radiation emitted from them. If a small dose of radioactive materials can affect all the living organisms seriously and impair their functions whereas high doses of radioactive materials may prove fatal. Prolonged and frequent exposure of a person to radioactive substances can cause serious diseases such as cancer and leukemia and also induce mutations in the genes. The mutated genes produced by the effect of radioactive substances can persist in the bodies of human beings, animals, and plants that affect their progeny by inducing abnormalities. Even the milk and its products (like cream and butter) can become highly contaminated with radioactive materials and damage human health.