Answer to Question #8362 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"
Category: Consumer Electronic Products
The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:
I have (by accident) bought an irradiated smoky quartz crystal. What I usually do with crystals is hold them in my hands for prolonged lengths of time, for "cuddling" if you will. Is this in any way a little harmful? I think this because crystals have the ability to hold, enhance, and emit energy—maybe also radiation? I am seriously concerned about this.
Thank you for the question you submitted to the Health Physics Society's website. I conferred with an expert in radioactivation of materials. He offered this response.
There is no need to worry. Your smoky quartz crystal is unlikely to expose you to any harmful level of radiation.
As you have discovered, irradiated quartz and certain other gemstones can reveal one of the interesting effects of ionizing radiation. That is, radiation can colorize them. Properly applied types and amounts of radiation can transform gemstones like diamonds and topaz into a variety of beautiful colors. The depth of the radiation-induced colorization can be controlled from tinting only their surfaces to producing hues all the way throughout the entirety of the stone. The resulting color can be quite beautiful. Radiological colorizing of gemstones like diamonds, topaz, and quartz, to name a few, is a common and profitable practice in the jewelry world. With one limited, radiation-type exception, this process will not make gemstones radioactive. Even that one exception (neutron radiation) will only slightly radioactivate them, and only temporarily so. As a matter of practice, irradiators hold freshly neutron-exposed stones to let the radioactivity decay away before releasing them for distribution.
Nonetheless, your quartz crystal is naturally radioactive, like all material on Earth is.
The good news is that natural radioactivity tends to be very low in concentration, so low that there is no known measurable risk to health. This natural fact means that your quartz crystal is quite likely to be free of any significant radioactivity, and therefore radiologically safe, even if you were to accidentally swallow it.
So, go ahead and enjoy your quartz crystal free of fear from radiation, in any way that you choose to handle it and for any length of time that you want. If you are curious and should you wish to have it tested, try contacting a local university or a local hospital and request a radiation check of your quartz crystal. These measurements are fast and easy to conduct and are fun to watch being taken.
I hope this answers your question. Thanks again for your interest in the Health Physics Society's Ask the Experts website feature.
Linnea Wahl, CHP