Radiation Contamination Versus Exposure


External contamination occurs when radioactive material comes into contact with a person’s skin, hair, or clothing.

vector graphic showing external radiation contamination through the contact with radioactive material in the air, solid or liquid radioactive material.

vector graphic showing internal radiation contamination from swallowing or breathing in radioactive material.
Internal contamination can occur when radioactive material is swallowed or breathed in.
Internal contamination can also occur when radioactive material enters the body through an open wound.
Different radioactive materials can accumulate in different body organs.
vector graphic showing radiation exposure and x-ray of the lungs

When a person has an x-ray, he or she is exposed to radiation but is not contaminated.

Another word for radiation exposure is irradiation.

Radioactive materials give off a form of energy that travels in waves or particles.

When a person is exposed to certain types of radiation, the energy may penetrate the body.

A person exposed to radiation is not necessarily contaminated with radioactive material.

For a person to be contaminated, radioactive material must be on or inside of his or her body.

Page last reviewed: December 16, 2019