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Radioactivity of Natural and Synthetic Gypsum

  /  
09.12.2019
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In recent decades, construction biology, the study of the impact of construction production on humans and the environment, has begun to play an important role in the construction industry. Previously, these aspects have been largely ignored. However, modern requirements aim to minimize the amount of substances hazardous to human health in the construction materials. The presence and content of asbestos, formaldehyde, etc. are strictly controlled.

A separate area of interest of construction biology is the background radiation of construction materials. Indoors, a person is exposed to more radioactive effects than in the open air, all other factors being equal. The degree of this exposure directly depends on the type and origin of the surrounding construction materials. Stones of volcanic origin, such as pumice, granite, etc., have the highest natural radioactivity. Materials processed from industrial waste, including slag concrete, slag wool, slag Portland cement, contribute to a high level of background radiation. Synthetic gypsum obtained from waste can also be highly radioactive.

Natural gypsum has one of the lowest levels of radioactivity — 29 Bq/kg. The same indicator for phosphogypsum, which is also widely used in construction, is higher — 574 Bq/kg. Due to a much higher specific radioactivity of phosphogypsum compared to that of the natural gypsum it is meant to replace, the radioactive effects of this material on people are more intense (by 30%). The content of radioactive elements in phosphogypsum depends on their concentration in phosphate raw materials. Therefore, the radioactivity of phosphogypsum should be measured and taken into account in each specific case when choosing a storage site and assessing the possibilities of its use.

Radionuclides are small particles that can propagate in the air in the form of dust. According to a study carried out by Indian ecologists, uranium-238 and radium-226 radionuclides are often present in phosphogypsum and its surrounding air. They may get into the respiratory tract of people and animals or settle down in water bodies and agricultural areas. Radon-222, a decay product of radium-226, is gaseous and therefore can be airborne and permeate the air by diffusion.

The negative impact of phosphogypsum on humans and the environment is currently becoming a focus of attention; and specialists are seeking ways to solve this issue. The Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) has already issued a safety directive on phosphogypsum use, but not all manufacturers of gypsum-based construction materials comply with these regulations. Although it is not possible to stop using hazardous materials completely in the near future, environmentalists and construction biologists recommend using only natural gypsum in combination with other natural materials for living spaces whenever possible.

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