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About the Environmental/Radon Section

Environmental Health Physics

The environmental health physicist is the professional most closely associated with protecting the public and environment from unnecessary exposure to man-made and technologically enhanced natural radioactivity. One important aspect is the environmental surveillance for radioactivity, which involves many types of instrumentation and field-sampling technologies. Environmental health physicists use these measurements to assess risk to people and the environment and where necessary, recommend protective practices.

Many environmental health physicists are employed in radioanalytical laboratories. Instrument design, radiochemical technique development, and quality assurance are skills needed as increasingly lower levels of detection are demanded. Another responsibility is assessing the environmental impact of released radionuclides using environmental transport models. These calculations involve the use of atmospheric dispersion models, biological uptake and transfer coefficients, and dose-conversion factors.

Decontamination and decommissioning (D&D) is an area demanding environmental health physicists. Those working in this area must have expertise in radiation surveys, pathway analysis, and laboratory analyses. They must also make critical decisions regarding decontamination levels necessary for the unrestricted release of radionuclides in former military and research facilities.

Natural radioactivity can sometimes become hazardous to workers and the public. Concentration of radium scales in the petrochemical and phosphate (fertilizer) industries are examples. Some groundwater sources contain high levels of radon and radium, which require protection of the public from higher radiation exposures. And radon, of course, is the most well publicized of the natural radioactive hazards. Radon in homes has created work in the areas of instrumentation, testing protocols, analysis, radioepidemiology, mitigation, preconstruction evaluations, and regulation/guideline development.

What is Radioecology?

Environmental health physics practice relies heavily on the field of radioecology. Radioecology, as defined by Dr. F. Ward Whicker and Vincent Shultz (1982), " is a field of science that encompasses the relationships between ionizing radiation or radioactive substances and the environment, or subunits within the environment. These subunits may be populations, communities, ecosystems, biomes, or even the biosphere. The primary subdivision of radioecology include 1) Radionuclide movement within ecological systems and accumulation within specific ecosystems components such as soil, air, water, and biota. 2) Ionizing radiation effects on individual species, populations, communities, and ecosystems. 3) Use of radionuclides and ionizing radiation in studies of structure and function of ecosystems and their component subsystem."