Answer to Question #8887 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Environmental and Background Radiation — Soil and Fallout

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

My son became very ill after falling into the Narrows at Utah's Zion National Park in July 2006. During that trip, we also applied the Narrows mud to our skin for its natural benefits. Soon after he developed an uncontrollable cough. Testing suggested that he is highly allergic to nearly everything in the environment and food—allergies he never had before. He developed muscle pain and joint pain. He developed high sensitivities to certain chemicals like chlorine, petroleum products, and perfumes to the point of causing immediate dizziness, rapid heart rate, and weakness in his body. Last year he was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. He was very healthy before our visit to the Narrows. Our doctor suggested that falling in the Narrows could have caused it. I take him to a nurse who is an orthopedic massager. Since his body goes into so much pain after a few days, she asked me if he was ever exposed to toxins. I mentioned the Narrows in Utah and she told me of the radiation fallout there. At the time we visited the Narrows he was 12; he is now 15. The nurse informed me that the radiation could have affected him because he is still growing. Is it possible that by applying mud on his body I could have exposed him to toxins?

A

Your question touches on several different subject areas. I'll try to address each one as I respond to your concerns.

Although I do not know the specific location you were in, there are no identified areas in Zion National Park with levels of radiation that would be considered harmful. Across the United States, environmental radiation levels have been monitored and studied extensively, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Geologic Survey (USGS) Web pages provide information on the radiation levels in all states, including Utah. For example, the EPA has maps of radon levels from uranium and thorium in the soil. For maps of radiation doses in the United States and Canada from all radionuclides in the soil, see the USGS Web site.

It is true that children are more sensitive to radiation because they are growing rapidly. Yet even though they are more sensitive, the known amounts of environmental radiation in the general area you are asking about are still not at a level that would produce effects. Ongoing international studies have not shown effects at environmental levels many times higher than those present in Utah. You may find useful information on the impact of background radiation from a previous question posted on the Health Physics Society website, 8457.

The symptoms you describe are not generally considered to be related to radiation exposure. There are studies in progress seeking to better understand symptoms such as those your son has exhibited, but these studies do not focus on radiation exposure. They are attempting to look at environmental triggers related to particles in the air, along with newer evaluation techniques related to nanotechnology.

In summary, it is highly unlikely that radiation and the events you described are related to the health situation of your son.

Karen Langley
Radiation Safety Officer at the University of Utah

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 25 March 2010. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.