EPA Facts about -90

What is strontium-90? The most common of strontium is strontium-90. Radioactive strontium-90 is produced when and undergo fission. Fission The time required for a radioactive substance to is the process in which the nucleus of a lose 50 percent of its radioactivity by decay is breaks into smaller parts. Large known as the half-life. Strontium-90 has a half- amounts of radioactive strontium-90 were life of 29 years and emits beta particles of produced during atmospheric nuclear weapons relatively low energy as it decays. -90, its tests conducted in the 1950s and 1960s. As a , has a shorter half-life (64 hours) result of atmospheric testing and radioactive than strontium-90, but it emits beta particles of fallout, this strontium was dispersed and higher energy. deposited on the earth. How are people exposed to strontium- 90? What are the uses of strontium-90? Although external exposure to strontium-90 Strontium-90 is used in medical and agricultural from nuclear testing is of minor concern because studies. It is also used in thermoelectric devices environmental concentrations are low, that are built into small power supplies for use strontium in the environment can become part of the food chain. This pathway of exposure in remote locations, such as navigational beacons, remote weather stations, and space became a concern in the 1950s with the advent vehicles. Additionally, strontium-90 is used in of atmospheric testing of nuclear explosives. tubes, radioluminescent markers, as a With the suspension of atmospheric testing of radiation source in industrial thickness gauges, nuclear weapons, dietary intake has steadily and for treatment of eye diseases. fallen in the last 30 years. These concerns have shifted somewhat to exposure related to How does strontium-90 change in the possible accidents at nuclear reactors or fuel environment? reprocessing plants and exposure to high-level waste at weapons facilities. Strontium-90 is a Strontium-90 is not a stable isotope. Strontium- component of contaminated soils at 90 decays to yttrium-90, which in turn decays to radioactively contaminated sites where nuclear stable . The of strontium and fission has been used (such as research reactors yttrium emit beta particles as they decay. The and plants). release of radiation during this decay process causes concern about the safety of strontium Accidents involving nuclear reactors such as and all other radioactive substances. Beta Chernobyl and Fukushima have released particles can pass through skin, but they cannot strontium into the atmosphere, which ultimately pass through the entire body. settles to the earth’s surface as fallout. - 1 -

Chernobyl contributed the largest worldwide from exposure depend on the concentration of amount of strontium-90 contamination, and a strontium-90 in air, water, and soil. At higher substantial portion of the strontium-90 released exposures, such as those associated with the was deposited in the former Soviet Republics, Chernobyl accident, the cancer risks may be with the rest being spread as fallout worldwide. elevated. The magnitude of this health risk would depend on exposure conditions, such as How does strontium-90 get into the the amount ingested. body? What recommendations has the U.S. Ingestion, usually through swallowing food or Environmental Protection Agency made water, is the primary health concern for entry of strontium into the human body. Small dust to protect human health? particles contaminated with strontium also may Please note that the information in this section be inhaled, but this exposure pathway is of less is limited to recommendations EPA has made to concern than the ingestion pathway. After protect human health from exposure to radioactive strontium is ingested, 20 to 30 strontium-90. General recommendations EPA percent of it is absorbed from the digestive has made to protect human health at Superfund tract, while the rest is excreted through feces. sites (the 10-4 to 10-6 cancer risk range), which Of the portion absorbed, virtually all (99 cover all including strontium-90, percent) of the strontium is deposited in the are summarized in the fact sheet “Primer on or skeleton. Radionuclides Commonly Found at Superfund Is there a medical test to determine Sites.” exposure to strontium-90? EPA has established a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 4 millirems per year for beta Generally, levels of strontium in the body are particle and photon radioactivity from man- measured by urinalysis. As with most cases of made radionuclides in drinking water. The internal contamination, the sooner after an average concentration of strontium-90 that is intake the measurement is made, the more assumed to yield 4 millirems per year is 8 accurate it is. picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). If other radionuclides How can strontium affect people’s that emit beta particles and photon radioactivity health? are present in addition to strontium-90, the sum of the annual dose from all the radionuclides Strontium-90 behaves like in the human cannot exceed 4 millirems/year. body and tends to deposit in and blood- forming tissue (bone marrow). Thus, strontium- For more information about how EPA addresses 90 is referred to as a "bone seeker," and strontium-90 at Superfund sites exposure will increase the risk for several Contact Stuart Walker of EPA: diseases including bone cancer, cancer of the (703) 603-8748 or [email protected], soft tissue near the bone, and . Risks or visit EPA’s Superfund Radiation Webpage: http://www.epa.gov/superfund/resources/radiation/

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