A lead apron is a wearable device that protects the body’s organs from dangerous radiation such as from x-rays and gamma rays. It is composed of a rubberized sheet with lead within it, and the entire thing is formed into an apron.
A lead apron’s purpose serves as radiation protection during procedures such as the following:
- Computed tomography
- Dental radiographs
Lead aprons are needed for these imaging tests and other situations that involve radiation because these rays can damage living tissue. If the radiation is too much for the body to handle, the following may occur:
- Radiation sickness
- Tissue damages
- DNA malformations
- Organ failure
Lead aprons often protect the following body parts because they are the most vulnerable:
Reproductive Organs – Radiation can affect reproductive cells (i.e. the egg cells of women and the sperm cells of men) and alter the DNA within them. This will result in genetic abnormalities in babies conceived by couples who have been exposed to such radiation. Other than that, intense radiation may cause sterility in people.
Thyroid Gland – The thyroid gland is vulnerable to radiation. It’s because it absorbs iodine from the blood even if the iodine has become radioactive because of radiation. This gland can develop cancer if it has been exposed to radiation for prolonged periods of time.
Take note that the entire body needs to be protected from radiation, but aprons cover only some body parts. For additional protection, you may need to wear accessories such as radiation glasses. Aprons usually have flaps that reach up to the neck and down to the knees. Thyroid collars protect the neck area as well.
Who Needs Lead Aprons?
Everyone who works with radiation needs some form of protection such as radiation aprons. The need for these may be classified into three types: occupational, medical, and public.
Occupational – People may have jobs that involve handling radioactive substances. Scientists, laboratory researchers, and even assembly line workers need these aprons as they go about their work.
Medical – Medical professionals such as doctors, radiation therapists, and medical technicians may be exposed to radioactive hazards. The patients who go to these professionals for diagnosis and therapy are exposed to those same hazards.
Public – There may be times when the general public becomes exposed to radiation. Examples of these scenarios are during radioactive spills or meltdowns at nuclear power plants. Exposure may also happen if people live near an industrial facility that releases radiation into the surroundings.
When is a Lead Apron Needed?
If people or operators need to be in the same room as a radioactive substance or device, or if they are very close to one, they need to wear protection such as lead aprons.
The ability of a material to reduce the intensity of radiation is dependent on how thick it is. The shielding power is measured by the halving thickness which is the thickness of material that reduces the radiation into one half of its original strength.
Lead has a strong shielding power and it only takes 1 cm of lead to halve radiation. Steel comes next, with a 2.5 cm halving thickness, while concrete needs to be 6.1 cm thick to produce the same effect.
Lead is an ideal shielding material because it is very dense. Its high density is a result of its massiveness (It contains a large number of electrons.) and its ability to be compressed into tiny spaces. Because of these features, it can effectively scatter harmful rays and render them harmless.
Without a lead shield, the electrons that form a person’s body will receive the full impact of the radiation. To prevent this from happening, the lead is fashioned into an apron so it can cover the body and absorb the shock. However, lead can’t keep this up indefinitely and it will wear down gradually every time it is used. This is why the aprons need to be checked via fluoroscopy and replaced after a specific period of time or if they show any signs of damage.
Ensuring their Effectiveness
To help preserve these aprons’ effectiveness, you should take proper care of them at all times. I have a provided a couple of tips on how you could achieve that.
- Do not fold your lead aprons so as to avoid damaging their linings. You should instead store them properly such as on racks that are designed specifically for them.
- Wear your aprons properly at all times. Not only will this prevent the aprons from getting damaged, it will also ensure your body is adequately protected when you come in contact with radiation.
Lots of people get their lead aprons from Kemper Medical, an established manufacturer of reliable radiation protection gear; perhaps you should, too!