Have you ever seen a TV or Hollywood show involving people working with and around dispersible hazardous materials? The workers are invariably wearing outfits which might look like space suits. This form of dress is known as anti-contamination clothing although in the industry they are known as anti-C's.
The technical term for the clothing is personal protective equipment (PPE) although other accessories may also be used including respirators and supplied air. Although the PPE clothing may look impressive and important, it does not protect from all types of radiological effects.
The main purpose of the anti-C clothing is just to insure that the workers are able to complete the work and eventually leave the area free of all contamination. In substantially contaminated environments, respirators and additional protective layers can be used to also protect against an intake of radioactivity if the potential exists in the workplace.
The use of the anti-C clothing is used in a sense like peeling an onion. Multiple layers are often used to allow a transition from a highly contaminated area to a lower contaminated area and so on. The clothing itself often becomes waste too, but when properly used and removed, it allows workers to be able to go home clean and free of contamination.
Contamination itself is effectively just radioactive material in dust or some other form which is easily distributed when it is not properly fixed in a sealed container or similar vessel. The anti-C clothing then allows workers to stir up the dust and get it on the outer anti-C clothing and yet still remove the anti-C's at the end of the shift in such a way as to not be contaminated at all.
The anti-C's then only protect against contamination. With respirators and fully enclosing outer anti-C clothing, they also can protect against breathing in any contamination.
What anti-C clothing does not protect against is external gamma radiation. Alpha and beta radiation being charged particles are much more easily stopped by thin materials but gamma radiation generally takes some layers of lead or larger thicknesses of concrete and similar materials to cause a meaningful reduction in the radiation.
Anti-C clothing is then only used when the gamma radiation fields from the contamination and other sources is sufficiently small. This allows radiation workers to be in the area in such a way as to not expose them to excessive levels of radiation. When gamma radiation fields become too large, remote handling and shielding are then used to keep the total radiation levels sufficiently low.
Many commercial and medical applications will use shielding in all cases when small radiation fields are present if it can be reasonably accommodated. This is particularly true if individuals will be exposed to these smaller radiation fields for long periods of time or over many intervals throughout the year.
Robert Hayes is a NewsOK contributor and a licensed professional engineer in both Nevada and New Mexico for Nuclear Engineering. He is also a member of the American Nuclear Society, the Health Physics Society, the American Physical Society, the Institute of Physics and the Gideons International.
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