Radiation has existed everywhere in the environment since the Earth's formation in rocks, soil, water, and plants. The mining and processing of naturally occurring radioactive materials for use in medicine, power generation, consumer products, and industry inevitably generate emissions and waste. Recognizing the potential hazards of these activities, Congress designated EPA as the primary federal agency charged with protecting people and the environment from harmful and avoidable exposure to radiation.
On this page:
- How We Protect You
- EPA's Radiation Protection Strategic Goals
- How We Work with Other Organizations
- Your Role in Radiation Protection
- For More Information
How We Protect You
EPA carries out its radiation protection responsibilities with several key, complementary activities:
Responding to Emergencies and Assisting in Homeland Security
EPA is the coordinating federal agency for responses to international emergencies involving radioactive materials, such as the accident at Chernobyl. EPA also provides guidance and training to other federal and state agencies in preparing for emergencies at U.S. nuclear plants, transportation accidents involving shipments of radioactive materials, and acts of nuclear terrorism. By conducting training exercises that simulate emergencies, EPA's Radiological Emergency Response Team and other agencies test their response plans and hone their skills.
EPA's scientists study both the risk of exposure the way that radioactive materials move through the environment and the potential for human contact and the risks from exposure how radiation affects human health. They undertake several key activities in assessing risk:
- monitor the environment for above-normal background levels of radiation
- use data from studies of effects from exposing human cells to different kinds and amounts of radiation and from exposure of people to radiation
- develop mathematical models to estimate the effects of potential exposures from existing exposure data.
Setting Protective Limits on Emissions
EPA uses its risk assessment results to set protective limits on radioactive emissions for all media air, water, and soil and to develop guidance for cleaning up radioactively contaminated Superfund sites. In turn, other federal and state agencies use EPA's standards to develop their own regulations. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission uses EPA's standards to develop regulations for commercial nuclear facilities, and the Department of Energy uses them to develop regulations for facilities that once developed and produced nuclear weapons.
Informing People About Radiation and Radiation Hazards
EPA informs the public about radiation topics, such as radon in homes, through brochures, public service announcements, hotlines, and its Internet pages. When developing a regulations, EPA staff hold public meetings receive comments from the public. EPA staff are also available to answer specific questions.
EPA's Radiation Protection Program Strategic Goals
Goal 1. Prepare for and respond to radiation emergencies.
Goal 2. Reduce exposures through sound environmental radiation regulations.
Goal 3. Provide scientific and technical expertise for management of radioactive waste and contaminated media.
Goal 4. Develop and provide credible information to make effective risk-management decisions about radiation.
Goal 5. Promote responsible management of natural and man-made radiation sources and materials and encourage safer alternatives.
Goal 6. Foster a workforce that meets current and future challenges of radiation protection.
How We Work with Other Organizations
As the Agency's experts on radiation, we coordinate with other EPA offices and other federal agencies to manage federal radiation protection programs. We provide emergency response training and analytical support to state and local and tribal governments. We provide guidance to other federal agencies on radiation protection matters. And we work closely with other national and international radiation protection organizations to further our scientific understanding of radiation risks.
Your Role in Radiation Protection
Part of the responsibility for protecting people and the environment rests with the government, but individuals have responsibilities too. Government agencies, such as EPA and other federal, state, and local organizations undertake large-scale protective activities:
- conducting research
- regulating radioactive materials
- providing laboratory facilities
- responding to radiological emergencies and countering terrorism
- alerting the public to radiation hazards
- informing the public on radiation protection issues
- recommending protective actions.
They also distribute information and provide opportunities for public involvement in the regulatory process.
Individuals have complementary responsibilities:
- informing themselves about radiation and radiation protection issues
- testing their homes for radon
- responsibly handling and disposing of radiation-containing consumer products
- learning how to report radiation emergencies
- participating in the regulatory process.
Participating in the Regulatory Process
When making environmental protection decisions, EPA seeks to provide the most extensive public participation possible. The Agency believes that open dialogue and public participation in both technical and nontechnical matters improves the regulatory process and fosters sound public policy decisions.
We hold public meetings and hearings to obtain comments on all proposed regulations. We communicate with other federal agencies, state and local governments, environmental and citizen groups, and other interested parties.
In addition, we maintain publicly available files of correspondence, technical support documents, and other material we receive during the regulatory process. For each regulation, these files, known as "dockets," are available in the Agency's official docket at EPA headquarters in Washington, DC. Sometimes, local public or university libraries agree to house duplicate, informational dockets in or near the communities most directly affected by the regulation.
EPA also provides information and opportunities to communicate directly with staff through its Internet pages, information lines, and staffed hotlines.
- Contact us
- Frequent questions
- Frequent questions about EPA
- Organizational Charts
- Radiation Protection at EPA: The First 30 Years (PDF)(84 pp, 1.3MB About PDF)
- Careers in radiation protection
- Looking to the future
- Radiation Protection, EPA's Unique Role (PDF)(2 pp, 297K About PDF)