Veterans are often exposed to radiation from many different sources. A Nuclear Technician on a submarine might be the first thing that comes to mind, but what about an Electronics Technician? Radarman? An Infantryman? A dental technician? There are many ways a veteran could have been exposed to radiation, and several different types of radiation with different effects.
Most of us know or at least suspect that radioactivity has harmful effects on the body. However, we get confused by all the surrounding jargon. There are two main types of radiation: non-ionizing radiation and ionizing radiation. In general, radiation is when invisible waves “radiate” from a source. Some radiation is solely comprised of these waves, and is referred to as “non-ionizing radiation.” Examples of non-ionizing radiation can be found everywhere-from extremely low frequency (ELF) antennas to microwaves to radar. Some radiation contains subatomic particles, and is referred to as “ionizing radiation.” Ionizing radiation has so much energy that it liberates subatomic particles from atoms, and moves them at a high speed through your body, often with disastrous results.
While ionizing radiation can be very dangerous, there are studies that have shown non-ionizing radiation can cause health issues as well. While there is no conclusive proof, several studies have shown that there is a chance exposure to non-ionizing radiation, especially extremely low frequency fields, can be harmful to humans.
Parkinson’s Disease has been shown to correlate with occupations that involve chronic exposure to magnetic fields, and a higher rate of Amytrophic lateral sclerosis is associated with all electrical occupations.
One study showed that children exposed to large amounts of ELF magnetic fields suffered from leukemia at twice the rate of those who did not. Another found workers exposed to higher amounts of occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields had higher rates of acute nonlymphoid leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia, and those with the highest exposure had an elevated risk of brain cancers.
Studies with animals have shown that exposure to non-ionizing radiation can lead to decreased fertility in both males and females, and one study has shown that exposure to magnetic fields can induce miscarriages.
Chronic exposure to non-ionizing radiation is not typically recognized as a source of disability by the VA. However, there is no conclusive evidence showing that there are no health risks involved, especially at the levels servicemen are likely exposed to. The amount of non-ionizing radiation created by the RADAR or ELF Antennas on an aircraft carrier is likely much greater than typical exposure in the home or civilian occupations. It is clear that more research needs to be done.