Pregnancy & Prolonged Exposure to Metal Detectors

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If you are pregnant and your work or travel exposes you to frequent metal detector radiation, you are likely worried about the possible long term effects of exposure on your baby. Most metal detectors used on people in airports and courthouses only give off safer, non-ionizing radiation and long term exposure to them does not increase the risk of birth defects, miscarriage, or fetal abnormalities. According to the Health Physics Society, the radiation you get from traveling on a flight from New York to Los Angeles is in excess of the radiation you get from going through the metal detectors in the airport and both are at low levels.

Function

  • According to the Health Physics Society in "Pregnancy and Security Screening" metal detectors emit a type of safe non-ionizing radiation that bounces its beams off of objects to see their outline. The radiation used in hand held metal detectors and in walk through security screeners is considered safe for pregnant women. X-rays in the baggage handler machine do give off ionizing radiation, but the devices are well shielded from employees and others who work closely with them.

Considerations

  • Radiation is present in the background every day so levels are usually matched up against what they would be as a result of day to day living. According to the Health Physics Society the radiation given off when you pass through an airport screener is safe, and even accidental one-time exposure to the rays inside the baggage handler is unlikely to do much harm. There are no long term effects on food, medicine, baby bottles or clothing that pass through a metal detector, even for those items that are packed frequently.

Significance

  • Ionizing radiation that is sometimes used in medical equipment can increase the risks of birth defects, miscarriage and other reproductive harm, but the level given off from metal detectors is much lower. According to the Health Physics Society, radiation is measured in units called rad, rem or roentgen, or in the international equivalent called the gray and sievert.

Limits

  • According to the Office of Radiation Safety, pregnant women should not be exposed to more than 500 millirems, or 0.5 rem, during their entire pregnancy or less than 50 mrem (0.05 rem) in a single month. A round-trip flight from New York to Los Angeles can expose a woman to 5 mrem (0.005 rem), while the effect of metal detectors is considered negligible. Some medical x-rays may expose a woman to 60 mrem of radiation, but they may still be done in cases where the benefits clearly outweigh the risks to the the mother and fetus.

Prevention/Solution

  • Although long term metal detector exposure is not believed to harm the fetus, be prudent if you work around such equipment every day. Try to stay farther away from the radiation source, and make sure that the device is blocked or shielded. Have someone measure the radiation exposure frequently to make sure that the level does not rise. If you are still concerned about long term exposure, consider wearing a badge that measures the radiation levels that you confront. Wash your hands with soap and water if you feel they have come into contact with radiation.

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