Category: Non-ionizing radiation

29 Jun 2022
Straw hat, bright red glasses and orange bottle of sunscreen for sun protection

Ultraviolet Radiation: How to Protect Yourself

Summer is in full swing. As a result, many Michiganders are spending more time in the great outdoors taking advantage of the warmth and sunshine.

However, the more time a person spends outdoors the more their body is exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation, a form of non-ionizing radiation, is invisible to the human eye and cannot be felt. It can cause severe skin damage and lead to the development of skin cancer.

Here at Versant Physics, our focus is primarily on radiation safety in relation to ionizing radiation sources used in medical procedures and cancer treatments. However, it is just as important that you protect yourself from naturally occurring UV radiation and understand the potential health risks.  

In honor of UV Safety Month, we’ll explain what UV radiation is, the most common types of skin cancer and other health risks associated with UV radiation, and important protective measures you should take when out in the sun.

What is UV Radiation?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a non-ionizing form of electromagnetic radiation that has both natural and artificial sources. Most of the UV radiation from sunlight gets absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere. What doesn’t get absorbed makes its way to the surface and interacts with our skin. UV rays are present even on cloudy days and also reflect off surfaces like snow, sand, and water.

There are three types of UV radiation rays:

  • Ultraviolet A (UVA)
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB)
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC)

UVA rays have the lowest wavelength of the different types of UV radiation; however, they make up over 95% of the rays that reach the Earth’s surface. These rays penetrate through the layers of skin, damaging the elastin and collagen. This results in tanned skin and skin aging, often in the form of wrinkles or age spots.  

UVB radiation is made up of high-energy UV rays that interact with the top layers of skin. UVB rays interact with skin cells and damage them, causing DNA mutations that show up later in the form of sunburns, skin cancer, or cataracts.

UVC rays are the strongest of the UV rays. Almost all of this UV radiation is absorbed by Earth’s atmosphere.

Unprotected, prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun is connected to a variety of health risks, including:

  • Premature aging
  • Skin damage
  • Cataracts
  • Immune system suppression
  • Skin cancer

UV Radiation Exposure and Skin Cancer

UV radiation causes melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers called basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).


Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that forms in the melanocytes. These cells are located beneath the squamous and basal cells and are what produce melanin, the pigment that gives hair, eyes, and skin its color.   

Melanoma is less common than other types of skin cancer, however, it is more dangerous. This is because melanoma it more likely to spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. Melanoma often presents as a highly pigmented black or brown tumor on the torso, chest, neck, or face.

The “ABCDE” rule can help patients identify if their existing mole or new skin growth is a warning sign of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry. The two halves of the mole do not match.
  • Border. Normal moles have a clean, even border. Melanoma will present with uneven or ragged edges.
  • Color. Melanoma tumors can be black, brown, pink, red, or white.
  • Diameter. Melanoma is usually a growth larger than a pencil eraser, or ¼ inch in diameter.
  • Evolving. The existing mole or new growth is changing in size, shape, texture, or color. It also may begin to itch, bleed, or ooze.

People with light skin, eyes, and hair are considered more at risk of developing melanoma than people with darker skin. Age, gender, occupation, family history, and lifestyle choices also play a role in the level of risk associated with developing melanoma.

Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer that begins in the basal cells. It shows up on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to UV radiation from sunlight, such as the head, face, or neck. It normally presents in the form of a skin lesion or shiny, skin-colored bump.

Squamous cell carcinoma is less common but just as serious. It presents as open sores, thick or wart-like skin, raised growths, or scaly red patches that may itch or bleed. SCC can show up anywhere on the body, although they are most often found on areas of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun.

Both BCC and SCC grow relatively slowly and are highly treatable. The sooner a new or strange-looking growth is looked at by a dermatologist and diagnosed, the better the odds are of treating the skin cancer. However, if left untreated, these skin cancers can spread to other areas of the body and become more dangerous.

UV Radiation Protection

There are many simple protective measures the average person can implement to help lessen the risks associated with UV radiation and its negative side effects.

  • Seek shade
  • Avoid prolonged sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when the sun is strongest
  • Wear long sleeves or pants
  • Wear a hat and/or UV-blocking sunglasses
  • Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen

Sunscreen is a major protector against UV radiation. Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Wearing a minimum of SPF 15 can reduce the risk of developing melanoma by 50% and SCC by 40%. Wearing a protective sunscreen daily can also help prevent premature skin aging.

Are There Any Health Benefits to UV Radiation?

Exposure to natural UV radiation from the sun has an important health benefit for the human body. UV radiation helps our bodies produce vitamin D, which is an essential vitamin that absorbs calcium in our stomachs, reduces inflammation, and is needed for healthy bone growth. Some food products contain vitamin D however most people get a portion of their vitamin D needs through sunlight.

There are no hard and fast numbers detailing how much sunlight exposure is needed for optimal vitamin D synthesis. The World Health Organization recommends no more than 15 minutes of direct sun exposure at least 3 times a week.

However, this does not negate the need for sun protection measures such as sunscreen and wearing protective clothing.

The Takeaway

It is important to protect yourself from UV radiation any time of the year. Although this non-ionizing source of radiation can help our bodies create vitamin D, it also interacts with our skin in a way that can lead to skin cancer. To prevent this, you should wear and apply sunscreen as directed, invest in UV-blocking glasses and clothes, and try to stay out of the sun as much as possible.

Learn more about UV and sun safety here.

18 Jan 2022
laser safety

Why We Need Laser Safety Officers

The role of the Laser Safety Officer (or LSO) is a key element to a successful laser safety program.

But what is it that they do? Why are they an important part of a successful workplace safety program? And just what does this all have to do with radiation?

Let’s begin by defining what a laser is and how it works, along with some common applications for lasers.

What is a laser?

Laser is an acronym that stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. The device, which emits a narrow beam of light, is made of a sealed tube with the laser medium inside of it. A pair of mirrors sit at either end of the sealed tube, and both reflect and transmit light in the form of the laser beam.

Laser in Use Sign

Energy applied to the laser medium excites and releases energy as particles of light. This light is a specific wavelength and singular color. Most importantly, laser light is coherent, which means all of the photons are in phase with one another. This allows laser light beams to be tightly focused to a tiny spot, and to stay very narrow over long distances.

Chances are, you’ve encountered lasers in your day-to-day life. In addition to their prevalence in science fiction stories and films, they are common in products like Blu-ray and DVD players, bar code scanners, at concerts or laser light shows, and as presentation tools.

Lasers are also frequently used for scientific and research purposes, in cosmetic procedures (tattoo removal, hair removal), LASIK eye surgery, construction, and material processing including engraving, drilling, and cutting. Lasers emit radiation in the form of light particles called photons, which are generally within or near the visible spectrum. Generally speaking, the frequencies of photons emitted by lasers are not harmful and do not behave like ionizing radiation or microwaves.

Hazards and Risks Associated with Lasers

Although lasers are not considered hazardous in the same way that ionizing radiation or radioactive substances like radium are, they can pose certain risks to humans when they are viewed or operated incorrectly. The coherence of the beam makes the light emitted by a laser much more intense than that of other light sources, so exposure to laser light can cause injury to the eye or skin.

Laser effects on the eye

When unprotected, the eye can be permanently damaged from direct or reflected laser beams. The type of damage depends on the wavelength of the laser beam. The retina, cornea, and lens are areas that typically receive the most severe damage.

Structures of the human eye

Laser beams in the visible to near-infrared spectrum (400-1400 nanometer) travel through the cornea and lens and can damage the retina. The highly concentrated, narrow beam of light is further focused by the lens and cornea, amplifying the intensity of the beam by a factor of approximately 100,000. This often results in thermal burns to retinal tissue structures which cannot be repaired, resulting in permanent effects such as vision loss.

Ultraviolet (100-400 nm) or far-infrared (1400-10,600 nm) laser light emissions are damaging to the cornea of the eye. The lens of the eye is damaged by radiation produced by near-ultraviolet (315-400 nm) light.

Protective eyewear designed for the wavelength and classification of the laser should be worn to protect against accidental injury from a laser. The LSO will identify the appropriate equipment for users and enforce its use.

Laser effects on the skin

Although not typically as serious as the effects on the eye, lasers can create thermal burns, blisters, and tissue damage to directly exposed skin. Exposure and severity depend on the laser wavelength, power (or wattage) of the laser beam, duration of exposure, and size of the irradiated area.

Most often, this tissue damage is temporary with varying degrees of painfulness, similar to a sunburn. There is a chance these burns can create scars or hyperpigmentation at the injury site. However, under certain levels, the heat from the laser beam can be felt on the skin before any serious damage can occur.

UV lasers introduce the risk of sunburn (erythema), skin cancer, and skin aging. UV-B lights are the most dangerous, in the 280-315 nm range.

What is a Laser Safety Officer?

Let’s start by breaking down what a laser safety officer is and the role they play in radiation safety or EHS program.

Regulatory bodies including the Laser Institute of America and the International Electrotechnical Commission have created laser safety standards that dictate the need for a Laser Safety Officer.

According to the ANSI Z136 standards published by the Laser Institute of America, the Laser Safety Officer is responsible for managing an organization’s laser safety program in university, government, or business institutions. They monitor and enforce control over laser hazards in work environments like research labs, mobile events, surgical centers, and more.

General Responsibilities

Like a radiation safety officer, the LSO is a record keeper, a training resource, a rule enforcer, and a safety guru. They are generally responsible for:

  • Establishing the organization’s laser safety program
  • Classifying the lasers in a facility
  • Creating and approving standard operating procedures
  • Enforcing the use of proper laser protection equipment and signage  
  • Laser safety training
  • Performing laser safety audits and inspections
  • Logging and investigating accidents associated with lasers in the workplace
  • Stopping laser operation if necessary

Extensive record-keeping and documentation are necessary to make these responsibilities possible.

Classifications of Lasers

As mentioned above, a Laser Safety Officer is responsible for identifying and classifying the types of lasers in their facility. These classifications are based on the power level of the beam and the hazard they present to the user:

  • Class I: These lasers do not emit laser radiation at known hazard levels. The hazard increases if they are viewed with optical aids such as magnifiers or telescopes. Direct eye exposure should be avoided.
  • Class IA: This type of laser applies to lasers that are not intended for viewing, such as the laser used to scan groceries. The hazard increases if viewed directly for long periods of time. Direct eye exposure should be avoided.
  • Class II: Low-power visible lasers that emit higher levels than Class I lasers but to do not exceed 1mW. Direct eye exposure should be avoided.
  • Class IIIA: Lasers with intermediate power (1-5mW) such as laser pointers used in presentations. These lasers can be momentarily hazardous if viewed directly.
  • Class IIIB: Lasers with moderate power, including laser light show projectors, research lasers, or industrial lasers. Immediate skin and eye hazards can occur when interacted with directly.
  • Class IV: High-powered lasers which are hazardous to view under any condition, such as lasers used to perform LASIK eye surgery. They are a potential skin and fire hazard. Facilities which house Class IV lasers are under strict controls and regulations.

Any facility using a Class IIIB or Class IV laser or laser system is required to designate a Laser Safety Officer to oversee the safety of all operations.

Using Software to Manage a Laser Safety Program

Odyssey, Versant Physics’ cloud-based software suite, has applications in EHS, radiation safety, and laser safety. There are several Odyssey modules that benefit Laser Safety Officers specifically and can help them manage their day-to-day responsibilities.

Incident Management

A vital role of the LSO is tracking and reporting hazards, accidents, and workplace safety incidents involving lasers. The Incident Management module makes tracking and analysis of incidents simple. It helps LSOs correct problems quickly and prevent future incidents relating to personnel or workplace safety events.

The module also allows for efficient follow-up with open cases, analyzes trends in logged incidents, which makes it easier to create a safe, compliant workplace.

Machine & Equipment Management

A machine profile in Odyssey
A machine profile in Odyssey’s Machine Management module

The machine and equipment management modules help LSOs store and track information regarding lasers, PPE, and more. Each machine or piece of equipment has its own profile which includes information like serial number, responsible owner, location, permit, and relevant documents like audits and registration certificates.


To help with inventory holdings and incident management, Odyssey features a reporting module. LSOs can generate customizable reports from data within Odyssey, email them to Odyssey and non-Odyssey users from within the software, and create automated reports that can be sent out to specified users on a regular basis.


Individual permits for personnel, equipment, and other inventory in a laser safety program can be created and managed within Odyssey. The permits module allows LSOs to create authorized conditions on each issued permit and enforce them. It is also a great tool for record-keeping.

Learn more about Odyssey radiation safety software here.


Laser Safety Officers ensure the safe use of lasers in both medical and non-medical situations. They are necessary to maintain an efficient, well-managed laser safety program, which ultimately keeps operators and the public safe.

05 Jan 2022

Top 3 Consumer Products that Contain Radioactive Materials

Radioactive materials are present in our natural environment and in man-made products we use every day. Such consumer products are defined as “a device or manufactured item into which radionuclides have deliberately been incorporated or produced by activation, or which generates ionizing radiation, and which can be sold or made available to members of the public without special surveillance or regulatory control after sale.”

Many devices that use WiFi or Bluetooth technology or connect to cell phone towers emit radio waves, also known as electromagnetic radiation (EMF).

This may concern consumers who are worried about the negative health effects associated with “radioactive materials” and “radiation.” However, in most cases, these materials we interact with are safe and pose no danger to our health.

Below we guide you through three common consumer products the average person uses or engages with regularly, discuss how the radioactive materials they contain work, and determine the health risk they pose to you and your family.

Cell Phones

Cell phones have become an integral part of daily modern life. We depend on them for communication, connection, and as a source of entertainment. However, their permanent presence and increased usage have raised concerns over the years that cell phones can cause negative health effects to humans, including brain tumors and hearing loss.

pile of cell phones

Do cell phones emit radiation?

Cell phones are not consumer products that contain radioactive materials. However, they communicate by transmitting EMF, a type of non-ionizing radiation at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum in the 100kHz to 300GHz frequency range.

RFs are widely used in communication technologies such as cell phones, Wi-Fi, radio, and TV. They are also found in MRI equipment, from natural sources like outer space, and in the microwave oven sitting on your kitchen counter.

Are there health risks?

Decades of research on RF radiation have concluded that exposure to this frequency has minimal health effects. Due to their frequency, RF radiation can be absorbed by the human body. In large amounts, this can produce heat, which has the potential to cause burns or tissue damage.

Numerous short-term studies have taken place on the link between cancer rates and cell phone usage. Small, individual studies have found slight associations between cell phones and cancer of the salivary glands, as well as a possible increase in the risk of gliomas. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer evaluated these studies and concluded that there is limited or inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity. Longer-term studies may need to be conducted to accurately determine the level of cancer risk associated with cell phones.

Those uncomfortable with incurring any level of risk can take steps to limit their cell phone usage by purchasing a hands-free headset or utilizing the speakerphone function when making calls.

Smoke Detectors

Most smoke detectors in the United States are ionization smoke alarms, which contain a small amount of the man-made radioactive element called americium-241.

how smoke alarms work

Why is radioactive material present?

Ionization smoke alarms are more responsive to flaming fires. The radioactive material present in the smoke alarm rests between two electrically charged plates which ionize the air and causes a current between them. Smoke entering the chamber disrupts the flow of ions, reducing the current and thereby activating the alarm.

Are there health risks?

Smoke detectors pose little to no health risk to human beings. The amount of americium-241 present is minimal, wrapped in gold foil, and shielded by the plastic case and stainless steel. These protective measures prevent easy tampering rather than limiting radiation exposure. However, there is no risk of significant exposure as long as these sources are contained in the detector housing.

Granite Countertops

Like many natural materials found on Earth, granite, a type of durable stone used in construction and home décor, contains small amounts of radioactivity.

Granite is a consumer product that contains a small amount of natural radioactive material.

Does granite emit radiation?

Trace elements of uranium, thorium, and radium can show up in slabs of granite. When these elements are present, they decay into radon. According to the EPA, radon released from granite materials can be released over the lifetime of its use but is typically diluted by ventilation.

Are there health risks?

It is extremely unlikely that the radiation emitted from granite countertops in your home would increase radiation doses above normal background levels. The radon released from granite is a significantly lower concern when compared with radon which originates in the soil and can build up inside the home. This type of radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and should be tested for on a regular basis.

Conclusion: Are Consumer Products That Contain Radioactive Materials or Emit Radition Unsafe?

It is true that some common consumer products contain trace amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials or emit non-ionizing radiation. However, this does not mean they are dangerous or pose a health risk to humans. In fact, in products like ionizing smoke detectors, the presence of radioactive material is crucial for keeping humans safe.

Further Reading:

Radiation Safety for Consumer Products, Specific Safety Guide No. SSG-36