Importance of Lead Shielding & Types You Need to Know

The first x-ray devices came into use in the late 1890s. These marvelous machines were used with abandon, even being advertised to remove unwanted hair! Slowly, realization dawned about the hazards of radiography. Fortunately, we now have advanced technology using lead shielding to protect against the harmful effects of radiation.

What Is Lead Shielding?

In most cases, lead shields go unseen. They’re hidden inside equipment, garments, or barriers to protect against exposure to ionizing radiation. You only know lead is present because the item containing it is heavy! Lead (chemical symbol Pb) is a very dense metal with a high atomic number. Its tightly packed atoms are excellent at attenuating, or blocking, x-rays and other electromagnetic waves.

Lead is an extremely soft, flexible, and malleable metal. It can be milled into any thickness, from broad slabs to thin foils. It’s easily cut and formed which makes it ideal for x-ray shielding applications. Lead also has a low melting point, which allows it to be poured and molded into any shape. It can also be alloyed with other metals for improved properties or added to glass as lead oxide. The only drawback is its toxicity, but this is overcome by covering it in protective layering.

What Makes Lead Good for Radiation Shielding?

If you look at the Periodic Table and the atomic structure of the lead metal, it has some unique and interesting properties. These make lead excellent at shielding high-frequency electromagnetic radiation:

  • Lead is atomic number 82 on the Periodic Table. This is the highest atomic number stable element and all subsequent elements are increasingly radioactive.
  • The nucleus of a lead atom is very big and stable and surrounded by a large electron cloud that can absorb electromagnetic radiation.
  • The atoms are usually arranged in a particularly compact pattern called a face-centered crystal lattice, making it hard for radiation to penetrate.

Radiation Shielding Properties

Heavy metals such as tungsten, gold, platinum, iridium, or bismuth can all be used for shielding from ionizing radiation such as x-rays and gamma rays, but these are more expensive and/or more toxic. Therefore, lead barriers are the commonly used option.

Below is a summary of the primary properties of lead that make it the ideal candidate for shielding.

  • It is very dense.
  • It is extremely stable.
  • It has a high atomic number and mass.
  • It is easy to fabricate.
  • It has a high degree of flexibility in application.
  • It is readily available in many forms.
  • It is cost-effective.

How Does Lead Help To Protect Against Dangerous Radiation?

ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) is the guiding principle for minimizing exposure to ionizing radiation. It is underpinned by the 3 tenets of Time, Distance, and Shielding. Any radiation exposure should be time-restricted and occur at a safe distance and with adequate shielding. Choosing the correct shielding material is an essential part of implementing ALARA.

Metallic lead and certain lead compounds are frequently used in radiation shielding. Because of its high density and stability, a lead barrier dramatically reduces the risks associated with radiation. For example, x-ray machines use shielding of either lead foil or sheeting.

Lead is also used in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). However, it would be impractical if radiation PPE was made entirely of lead, as it would be far too heavy! Fortunately, it isn’t necessary to cover the whole body—just those parts that contain the most vulnerable cells. This is called selective shielding.

The diagram shows the different kinds of radiation and the materials they penetrate. As you can see, lead radiation shielding blocks most types of radiation:

kinds of radiation

How Does Lead Block Radiation?

All ionizing radiation is basically emitted energy, whether it occurs as high-frequency electromagnetic waves or highly energetic pieces of atoms. To shield against radiation, you need some kind of barrier that absorbs this kinetic energy.

Many factors need to be considered when choosing the right shielding material. Lead, because of its density and high atomic number, is the best substance that we have that can attenuate the dangerous energy of high-frequency electromagnetic radiation. X-rays are the most commonly used form of radiation in medicine and industry, and lead is the best barrier to x-rays.

An analogy is a good way to visualize how lead blocks radiation. Think of a public swimming pool — if there’s no one in the pool, then a swimmer can easily dive in and rapidly swim across it unimpeded. Now imagine that same pool on the hottest day of the year, absolutely jam-packed with people from one side to the other! Our swimmer can’t cross the pool without jostling and bumping into a whole lot of people in the way and will get slower and exhausted in the process. The swimmer is the x-rays and the people in the pool are individual atoms of lead.

Different Kinds of Radiation Lead Shielding Apparel

Barrier Technologies emphasizes safety, quality, and style in all our USA-manufactured radiation shielding products:

  1. Lead Aprons: Our lightweight, comfortable xray lead aprons and vests offer lasting radiation protection.
  2. Leaded Glasses: Browse our large inventory of leaded eyewear to protect your eyes from 100% scatter radiation.
  3. Lead Gloves: Radiation gloves protect against occupational radiodermatitis when working with x-ray equipment.
  4. X-Ray Accessories: When looking for x-ray apron holders, mobile barriers, or other radiology accessories, we have the equipment you need.
  5. Mobile Lead Barriers: Our mobile lead shield provides up to 4x more long-bone protection than competing options.
  6. Leaded Pads and Drapes: Innovative scatter-reducing pads and drapes attenuate over 95% of direct beam radiation at 100kVp intensity.
  7. Thyroid Shield Collars: We offer three kinds of thyroid collars to suit your unique needs.
  8. CT Protection Shields: Our special range of eye, thyroid, breast, and pediatric shields protect sensitive tissues during CT scans.

Barrier Technologies: Provider of Top-of-the-Line Radiation Protection Lead Shielding

Barrier Technologies is the leading US manufacturer of quality products to protect people from the harmful effects of scatter radiation. Our innovative and novel solutions serve the Medical, Dental, Veterinary, Nuclear, and defense industries. We deliver the latest designs with style, durability, comfort, and fit, to ensure you’re equipped with unsurpassable radiation shielding apparel and accessories.

At Barrier Technologies, we offer cutting-edge products to help you usher in a new age of radiation safety. We invite you to explore our extensive range via our website and catalogs. Contact our consultants today for expert advice and all your radiation shielding requirements.