Radioactive Elements Found in the Environment (Nature)

Radioactive materials give off a form of energy that travels in waves or particles. This energy is called radiation. When a person comes in contact with radiation, the energy gets into the body. For example, when a person has an x-ray, he or she is exposed to radiation.

Alpha Radiation

Alpha radiation is a type of energy released when certain radioactive elements decay or break down. For example, uranium and thorium are two radioactive elements found naturally in the earth’s crust. Over billions of years, these two elements slowly change form and produce decay products such as radium and radon. During this change process, energy is released. One form of this energy is alpha radiation.

Learn more about the health effects of alpha radiation in drinking water and treatment options.

Uranium

Uranium is a radioactive element found in nature. It can be present in soil, air, water, rocks, plants and food. Uranium breaks down (decays) very slowly into other elements including radium and radon.

Learn more about the health effects of uranium in drinking water and treatment options.

Radium

Radium is a metal that is found in nature. It is radioactive and can exist in several forms (called isotopes). Radium can be found at varying levels throughout Vermont and the entire earth—in soil, water, rocks, plants and food.

Learn more about the health effects of radium in drinking water and treatment options.

Radon

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that has no color, smell, or taste. Radon comes from the decay of uranium, which is a radioactive element found naturally in the earth’s crust. Over billions of years, uranium decays into radium, and eventually, radon.

Learn more about Radon.

Polonium

Polonium (Po-210) is a radioactive material that occurs naturally at very low concentrations in the environment. It can be produced in university or government nuclear reactors, but it requires expertise to do so.

What are the health concerns relating to polonium in drinking water?

Po-210 is a radiation hazard only if it is taken into the body through breathing or eating or by entering a wound. This internal contamination can cause irradiation of internal organs, which can result in serious medical symptoms or death. Po-210 is not an external hazard to the body—neither polonium nor its radiation will get through intact skin or membranes. Most external traces of it can be removed through careful washing.

Learn more about Polonium.