What kind of radiation rays were found at Fort Bliss and are they harmful?

EL PASO, Texas - Fort Bliss officials said on Tuesday morning that alpha and beta rays were found in and near a bunker in East Fort Bliss.

Gamma rays, which are the most harmful, were not found at the location.

The three main types of radiation are alpha, beta, and gamma radiation according to the Idaho National Laboratory Site

  • Alpha particles do not travel very far (only centimeters in air) and are easily stopped.  They will not penetrate paper or the outer layer of your skin so they are not an external hazard to the body.  Internally, however, they are of more concern. 
  • Beta particles can have enough energy to penetrate paper or skin but not materials like wood or plastic. 
  • Gamma-ray radiation has a penetration ability greater than alpha or beta radiation.  X-rays are the same as gamma radiation except they are produced from the orbital electrons of atoms rather than the nucleus. (Lead is usually used to prevent gamma ray exposure)

All three types of radiation can come from either natural or human-made sources, according to the Idaho National Laboratory Site.

From the Environmental Protection Agency

Both direct (external) and internal exposure to gamma rays or X-rays are of concern. Gamma rays can travel much farther than alpha or beta particles and have enough energy to pass entirely through the body, potentially exposing all organs. A large portion of gamma radiation largely passes through the body without interacting with tissue the body is mostly empty space at the atomic level and gamma rays are vanishingly small in size. X-rays behave in a similar way, but have slightly lower energy. By contrast, alpha and beta particles inside the body lose all their energy by colliding with tissue and causing damage.

Gamma rays can ionize atoms in tissue directly or cause what are known as "secondary ionizations." Ionizations are caused when energy is transferred from gamma rays to atomic particles such as electrons (which are essentially the same as beta particles). These energized particles then interact with tissue to form ions through secondary ionizations. Because gamma rays are photons and thus interact less frequently with matter than alpha and beta particles, they are more penetrating and the damage they cause can occur much farther into tissue (that is, farther from the source of radiation).

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