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Doses in Our Daily Lives

Radiation Doses in Perspective (in millirem)
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On average, Americans receive a radiation dose of about 0.62 rem (620 millirem) each year. Half of this dose comes from natural background radiation. Most of this background exposure comes from radon in the air, with smaller amounts from cosmic rays and the Earth itself. (The chart to the right shows these radiation doses in perspective.) The other half (0.31 rem or 310 mrem) comes from man-made sources of radiation, including medical, commercial, and industrial sources. In general, a yearly dose of 620 millirem from all radiation sources has not been shown to cause humans any harm.

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Doses from Medical Procedures

Medical Procedure Doses
Procedure Dose (mrem)
X-Rays-single exposure
Pelvis 70
Abdomen 60
Chest 10
Dental 1.5
Hand/Foot 0.5
Mammogram (2 views) 72
Nuclear Medicine 400
Full body 1,000
Chest 700
Head 200

Medical procedures account for nearly all (96%) human exposure to man-made radiation. For example, a chest x-ray typically gives a dose of about 0.01 rem (10 millirem) and a full-body CT gives a dose of 1 rem (1,000 mrem), as shown in the table to the left.

Among these medical procedures, x-rays, mammography, and CT use radiation or perform functions similar to those of radioisotopes. However, they do not involve radioactive material and, hence, are not regulated by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Instead, most of these procedures are regulated by State health agencies. In fact, among these procedures, the NRC and its Agreement States only license and regulate the possession and use of radioactive materials for nuclear medicine.

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Radioactivity in Food

All organic matter (both plant and animal) contains some small amount of radiation from radioactive potassium-40 (40K), radium-226 (226Ra), and other isotopes. In addition, all water on Earth contains small amounts of dissolved uranium and thorium. As a result, the average person receives an average internal dose of about 30 millirem of these materials per year from the food and water that we eat and drink, as illustrated by the following table. (Amounts are shown in picocuries per kilogram.)
Natural Radioactivity in Food
Food 40K (pCi/kg) 226Ra (pCi/kg)
Bananas 3,520 1
Carrots 3,400 0.6 – 2
White Potatoes 3,400 1 – 2.5
Lima Beans (raw) 4,640 2 – 5
Red Meat 3,000 0.5
Brazil Nuts 5,600 1,000 – 7,000
Beer 390 ---
Drinking Water --- 0 – 0.17

Personal Annual Radiation Dose Calculator

We live in a radioactive world, and radiation has always been all around us as a part of our natural environment. As explained above, the annual average dose per person from all sources is about 360 mrem, but it is not uncommon for any of us to receive more than that average does in a given year (largely as a result of medical procedures). To find your personal annual radiation dose, use the interactive Personal Annual Radiation Dose Calculator or this printer friendly worksheet PDF Icon.

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Page Last Reviewed/Updated Monday, October 05, 2015