You’ve probably been warned about the cancer-causing effects of radiation; these are energies with scary-sounding scientific names like gamma rays, alpha particles, and ultraviolet light. Indeed, over time, radiation can take a serious toll on our bodies. But at least it’s something confined to places like Chernobyl, right? Well…
In actuality, tons of everyday objects and places emanate trace levels of radiation. While you won’t exactly keel over the second you touch or consume something on this list, it’s helpful to know what contains the stuff. Thankfully, our bodies can handle quite a bit of it, otherwise, we’d be in serious trouble! Just take a look at these surprisingly radioactive objects…
1. Bananas: Because they carry the isotope potassium-40, bananas emit tiny traces of radiation that even a Geiger counter can pick up. But don’t cut ’em from your diet just yet. You’d have to eat about 500,000 bananas before you started feeling queasy.
2. Airport scanners: In an instant, the controversial tool that TSA agents use to quickly search travelers for contraband exposes you to more radiation than you’d see living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant for a year.
3. Flying: At about 35,000 feet, a six-hour flight from New York City to Los Angeles exposes travelers to radiation levels equivalent to about 400 trips through those airport security body scanners. Yikes!
4. Coal power plants: Thanks to radioactive substances released through smoke, living within 50 miles of a coal power plant would expose you to far more radiation than if you lived the same distance from a nuclear power plant.
5. Brazil nuts: In Brazil, the roots of trees that produce Brazil nuts extend so far into the ground they actually reach radium-rich soil. The radium—a natural source of radiation—then makes its way into the nuts themselves.
6. Older dinnerware: In the 1960s, it was common for dish and pottery makers to use thorium, potassium-40, or even depleted uranium oxide in coating glazes. Eating acidic foods on these plates could leach some of those elements.
7. Exit signs: You know those signs lining every hallway at the office or public place that show you the way out? They stay lit without electricity by utilizing a hydrogen isotope called tritium, a harmful radioactive substance if ingested.
8. Fluorescent lights: The cylindrical bulbs that produce that unsettling light in office buildings and classrooms often contain the radioactive isotope krypton-85. However, the other non-radioactive chemicals utilized in these bulbs are even more dangerous.
9. Smoke detectors: To actually detect smoke, some smoke detectors utilize americium-241, a radioactive isotope. Luckily, it’s surrounded by foil and stuff, so as long as you don’t eat the hallway smoke detector between hamburger buns, you should be safe.
10. Kitty litter: While it’s great for absorbing your cat’s hard work, the bentonite clay that makes up cat litter contains naturally occurring uranium and thorium. This causes a lot of problems when litter ends up in landfills or in drinking water.
As with all things in life, moderation is key here. Not one of these surprisingly radioactive things can single-handedly give you radiation sickness, but over time, their effects could add up!