Health and environmental experts in Harare have called for stricter control and proper disposal of radioactive waste to avoid radiation pollution. The experts say a number of people may be exposed to radiation unknowingly, leading to frightening health problems in future.
“We have seen an upsurge in the use of radioactive equipment and the extraction of materials which are radioactive. We should monitor the disposal of radioactive materials so as not to contaminate the environment,” noted Claudius Murawo of Ecosafety Products.
Smoke detectors are one piece of equipment that uses radiation. It enables the detectors to recognise smoke from fires ahead of raising the alarm. Radiation is also widely used in automatic quality control systems in production lines, such as to gauge fluid level in beverage cans or density of tobacco in cigarettes.
In Zimbabwe, beverage manufacturing companies like Delta use radiation level gauges to ensure that soft drinks in cans, such as Coca Cola, Sprite, Fanta and beers, are filled up to the correct levels in production plants. The agricultural industry uses radiation as a means for the improvement of food production and food packaging. Engineers use gauges containing radioactive substances to measure the thickness of paper products, fluid levels in oil and chemical tanks and the moisture and density of soils and material at construction sites.
Dr Ntokozo Ndlovu of the Department of Radiography at the University of Zimbabwe says, “Demand for radiation monitoring in the capital city and the country at large has increased because of greater awareness of the dangers of radiation. The safe and environmentally sound management of radioactive wastes is encouraged.”
On the other hand, Reward Severa, Chief Executive Officer of the Radiation Protection Authority of Zimbabwe, says the RPAZ has been developing measures to curb the pollution caused by radioactive materials and is investigating cost effective methods for environmentally sound disposal of radioactive wastes.”
Radiation is energy in the process of being transmitted. It may take such forms as light or tiny particles much too small to see. Visible light, the ultra-violet light we receive from the sun, and transmission signals for TV and radio communications are all forms of radiation that are common in our daily lives. These are all generally referred to as ‘non-ionizing’ radiation, though at least some ultra-violet radiation is considered to be ionizing. The effect of radiation in the environment can be dangerous and even fatal to humans and animals. The damage it causes depends on the level of radiation and the resiliency of the organism. Radiation causes molecules to lose electrons thus destroying it. Killing certain enzymes in the body can simply make you sick. However, once radiation damages DNA the body may not be able to repair itself. This can increase the chances of both animals and humans developing cancer.
Severa discloses that there has been a steady increase in the number of inspections of facilities conducted every year. The authority has managed to conduct ninety percent of planned inspections.
“The procurement of a new personal monitoring system has increased the capacity to monitor occupationally exposed workers from 1,000 to 5,000. Currently more than 1,500 workers are being monitored. All professionals who are regularly exposed to radiation in the work place, such as hospitals, mining and industry, must be tested regularly to ensure that they are not exposed to too much radiation,” said Severa.
At least 10,000 people in the country across various professions now require radiation monitoring to ensure that they are not affected by its harmful effects.
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