It’s a Banana – Run for You Life – Or Not

banana.svg.medOne of my favorite websites tackled the question “are bananas radioactive?”

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

Radiation is everywhere – all life, including you and me, evolved in a constant bath of radiation. Our bodies can handle a certain amount – though be careful what you google. There’s a lot of wacky stuff about alleged natural cancer cures on the internet.

There are variations in the amount of radiation present in familiar things.

[At] the nearest grocery… started by measuring the ambient radiation in the air at the store: eight microrems. (The rem is a unit of radiation dosage…) … radiation in the banana bin: 15 microrems. Progress at this point was interrupted by a store manager’s inquiry regarding the customer wielding the Geiger counter. Having justified her presence, Una broadened the investigation. Idaho potatoes? Eleven microrems. Kitty litter? A whopping 19. (We presume you’re not eating that.) straightdope

That’s all part of background radiation – “ubiquitous ionizing radiation that people on the planet Earth are exposed to, including natural and artificial sources.” wikipedia

Bananas are only one source. Background radiation varies by location and – especially pertinent for Coloradans – is higher at higher elevation. Radon is the biggest natural source, and is worth considering. I once rejected purchasing a house because of its way-high radon level. I’ve read of places where uranium mine tailings were used as aggregate in concrete for homes – that’s ridiculous. Sealing yourself in with a source is a foolish risk.

Medical procedures are the largest contributor to artificial radiation and obviously that varies a lot from person to person. We expect the benefits of procedures to far outweigh the risks, but whether certain screenings – mammograms, for example – are worth the risk is an interesting debate.

Radiation from nuclear testing is part of background, too, though it’s very low and has been dropping since above-ground testing was banned in 1963. Whether nuclear weapons secured benefits worth the added risk is often debated – watch for RF_alum’s upcoming book and, in the meanwhile, read about the persistent myths that surround Rocky Flats Plant, where we both worked.

But, returning to bananas, which are a good source of potassium:

Some of the essential elements that make up the human body, mainly potassium and carbon, have radioactive isotopes that add significantly to our background radiation dose. wikipedia

Did you catch that? It’s not just potassium, but carbon, too – an element present in every organic molecule, the very definition of life.

It’s hard to evaluate claims about radiation because there’s so much fear-mongering, political jockeying, long-standing battles, and outright nonsense. Avoid memes and CAPITAL LETTERS. Keep in mind that, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Likewise, if something is killing us, why aren’t we all dead? Arguments with nuance attract me. I prefer scientists to activists, and per-reviewed papers to press releases, though I have to rely on journalists to find and summarize scientific papers for me.

Accusations that “they” are willing to sicken us all for profits are serious – I want to see some serious proof.

I realize none of this advice talks about the scientific truth – that’s hard to find when you’re not an expert.

Radiation isn’t good for you, but it’s an integral part of many things that are. I guess that doesn’t make a very good bumper sticker slogan, but interesting topics seldom do.

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