Nuclear Fallout Myths Debunked: Does a Gasmask Protect From Radiation?

Have you ever wondered why people working with nuclear materials are always shown wearing a gas mask? The answer is right here!

A gas mask protects you from Alpha and Beta radiation. It DOES NOT protect you from Gamma radiation. Gas masks are also useful to prevent you from inhaling radioactive fallout following a nuclear detonation.

I looked around a little to see what kind of information was being put out about this topic and I was surprised how many different people are trying to claim that a gas mask protects you from Gamma radiation. It’s simply not the case.

Here’s How a Gas Mask Protects you from Radiation

The two types of radiation that would cause to have to wear a gas mask are Alpha and Beta particles. Both of these types of radioactive particles are easily stopped by a gas mask.

Alpha radiation is a low energy particle that quickly loses energy as it travels from its source. It’s able to be stopped by a little more than an inch of air, a very small amount of water (.008″) and even unbroken skin.

The main problem posed by Alpha is caused when you inhale the materials emitting it. Your skin can stop the Alpha when it’s outside your body, but your internal organs aren’t able to do the same thing. This allows the Alpha particles to continuously radiate your body from the inside out once you’ve inhaled it.

Beta radiation is another relatively low energy particle. It’s stopped by 10′ of air, 2″ of water, a thin layer of metal or glass, and heavy clothing.

The dangers of Beta radiation are very similar to Alpha. When you inhale it, any external protection you may have is eliminated and you’re directly radiating your lungs and other organs.

A gas mask will filter any contaminated solids from the air. It will also keep you from inhaling any Alpha or Beta particles. One of the overlooked benefits of a full-face respirator is that it keeps your eye protected from the same material!

A Gas Mask does not Protect you from Gamma Radiation

If you’re trying to protect yourself from Gamma radiation, then you’re going to have to do something other than wearing a gas mask. It just doesn’t protect you from Gamma radiation.

Gamma radiation is a very high energy particle (similar to an x-ray) that needs significant shielding to be stopped. The thicker and denser material you can get behind the better. It takes almost 14″ of water, 6.6′ feet of concrete or 1.3′ of lead to stop Gamma radiation.

This means that the only way to keep Gamma from affecting you is to get as far away from the source as possible. If that isn’t possible then you need to get inside and put as much earth, concrete, and steel between you and the Gamma source as you can!

What is Nuclear Fallout and How Bad is it?

Nuclear fallout happens when a nuclear explosion happens close enough to the ground to throw earth and debris into the atmosphere. This happens in a lot of nuclear explosions but it’s worst during a surface or subsurface detonation.

Fallout close to the blast will start falling back to earth in around 30 minutes. Other fallout could stay suspended in the atmosphere for much longer until it’s brought back to earth by gravity and things like rain. By the time this happens, the fallout could have traveled a very long distance from the blast.

The fallout will contaminate everything that it lands on or in. This includes crops and water sources making it difficult to find food and water in areas that are in the fallout area.

How Does Radiation Damage the Body?

Alpha, Beta, and Gamma are all considered ionizing radiation. This is the type of radiation that weakens and breaks down DNA. This damage can either kill the cells or change them enough to make them mutate into cancer cells.

When cells are initially damaged by radiation, they cause what is known as radiation sickness. This is when the cells can’t replicate and start to die off. This causes swelling of the body, hair loss, and nausea.

The cells that don’t die can mutate to the point where they start to reproduce out of control becoming cancer.

Can an N95 Mask Be Used to Protect from Radiation?

N95 Masks are designed to protect from things like asbestos, lead paint chips, and mold. They aren’t designed to protect from radiation even though it seems like they could.

If I had to choose between wearing an N95 mask and nothing I would probably wear the mask. It’s better than nothing but it’s no replacement for a full-face respirator.

A gas mask does more for you than just protect your lungs, it also protects your eyes. If you didn’t have a full-face respirator your eyes would be exposed to potentially contaminated fallout and other particles. Your eyes are a lot like your other organs in that they don’t have a protective layer of skin to cover them.

What are the Best Gas Masks?

The best gas mask for anyone looking to purchase one right now is going to be the M50 (if you can find one) or one of the many that are manufactured for the civilian and police sectors. They’re going to run you top dollar if you pick one up, but they’re worth every penny if you can afford them.

Your other options are all going to be military surplus masks. As long as they don’t have any tears and aren’t separated around the seams then they should be good. Just make sure they accept a quality 40mm filter that’s rated for CBRN hazards.

Related Questions

What gas mask does the US Army use? The U.S. Army is currently using the M50. The M50 is the newest generation CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear) full-face mask specifically designed to meet the latest NATO military mask requirements.

Are gas masks waterproof? Gas masks are usually designed to be used in all types of weather, including rain. This means that you can wear it in wet weather or other places that will get it wet, but you can’t use it in an area that will submerge the mask in water as this will likely damage the filter.

What will gas masks protect you from? Gas masks are designed to protect you from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear hazards. They are usually used by the military and police but are becoming more popular with civilians as they become more accessible.

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