A dirty bomb is a mix of explosives, such as dynamite, with
radioactive powder or pellets. When the dynamite or other explosives are set
off, the blast carries radioactive material into the surrounding area.
A dirty bomb is not the same as an atomic bomb.
An atomic bomb, like those bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
involves the splitting of atoms and a huge release of energy that produces the
atomic mushroom cloud. A dirty bomb works completely differently and cannot
create an atomic blast. Instead, a dirty bomb uses dynamite or other explosives
to scatter radioactive dust, smoke or other material in order to cause
What Are the Main Dangers of a
The main danger from a dirty bomb is from the explosion,
which can cause serious injuries and property damage. The radioactive materials
used in a dirty bomb would probably not create enough radiation exposure to
cause immediate serious illness, except those people who are very close to the
blast site. However, the radioactive dust and smoke spread farther away could be
dangerous to health if it is inhaled. Because people cannot see, smell, feel or
taste radiation, you should take immediate steps to protect yourself and your
What Immediate Actions Should I
Take to Protect Myself?
These simple steps – recommended by doctors and radiation
experts – will help protect you and your loved ones. The steps you should take
depend on where you are located when the incident occurs: outside, inside or in
If You Are Outside and Close to
Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth to reduce the risk
of breathing in radioactive dust or smoke.
Don’t touch objects thrown off by an explosion – they might
Quickly go into a building where the walls and windows have
not been broken. This area will shield you from radiation that might be
Once you are inside, take off your outer layer of clothing
and seal it in a plastic bag. Put the cloth you used to cover your mouth in the
bag, too. Removing outer clothes may get rid of up to 90% of radioactive
Put the plastic bag where others will not touch it. Keep it
until authorities tell you what to do with it.
Shower or wash with soap and water. Be sure to wash your
hair. Washing will remove any remaining dust.
Tune to the local radio or television news for more
If You Are Inside and Close to
If the walls and windows of the building are not broken,
stay inside the building and do not leave.
To keep radioactive dust or powder from getting inside,
shut all windows, outside doors and fireplace dampers. Turn off fans and heating
and air-conditioning systems that bring in air from the outside. It is not
necessary to put duct tape or plastic around doors or windows.
If the walls and windows of the building are broken, go to
an interior room and do not leave. If the building has been heavily damaged,
quickly go into a building where the walls and windows have not been broken. If
you must go outside, be sure to cover your nose and mouth with a cloth. Once you
are inside, take off your outer later of clothing and seal it in a plastic bag
if available. Store the bag where others will not touch it.
Shower or wash with soap and water, removing any remaining
dust. Be sure to wash your hair.
Tune to local radio or television news for more
If You Are in a Car When the
Close the windows and turn off the air conditioner, heater
Cover your nose and mouth with a cloth to avoid breathing
radioactive dust or smoke.
If you are close to your home, office or a public building,
go there immediately and go inside quickly.
If you cannot get to your home or another building safely,
pull over to the side of the road and stop in the safest place possible. If it
is a hot or sunny day, try to stop under a bridge or in a shady spot.
Turn off the engine and listen to the radio for
Stay in the car until you are told it is safe to get back
on the road.
What Should I Do About My Children
If your children or family are with you, stay together. Take
the same actions to protect your whole family. If your children or family are in
another home or building, they should stay there until you are told it is safe
to travel. Schools have emergency plans and shelters. If your children are at
school, they should stay there until it is safe to travel. Do not go to the
school until public officials say it is safe to travel.
How Do I Protect My
If you have pets outside, bring them inside if it can be done
safely. Wash your pets with soap and water to remove any radioactive dust.
Should I Take Potassium
Potassium iodide, also called KI, only protects a person’s
thyroid gland from exposure to radioactive iodine. KI will not protect a person
from other radioactive materials or protect other parts of the body from
exposure to radiation. Since there is no way to know at the time of the
explosion whether radioactive iodine was used in the explosive device, taking KI
would probably not be beneficial. Also, KI can be dangerous to some people.
Will Food and Water Supplies Be
Food and water supplies most likely will remain safe.
However, any unpackaged food or water that was out in the open and close to the
incident may have radioactive dust on it. Do not consume water or food that was
out in the open. The food inside of cans and other sealed containers will be
safe to eat. Wash the outside of the container before opening it. Authorities
will monitor food and water quality for safety and keep the public informed.
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Exposed
to Radiation or Contaminated By Radioactive Materials?
People cannot see, smell, feel or taste radiation; so you may
not know whether you have been exposed. Police or firefighters will quickly
check for radiation by using special equipment to determine how much radiation
is present and whether it poses any danger in your area. Low levels of radiation
exposure (like those expected from a dirty bomb situation) do not cause any
symptoms. Higher levels of radiation exposure may produce symptoms, such as
nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and swelling or redness of the skin. If you develop
any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor, hospital or other sites
recommended by authorities.
Where Can I Get More
For more information about dirty bombs, radiation and health,
The Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors (CRCPD) or call (502)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or call (301) 415-8200
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or call (202) 646-4600
The Radiation Emergency Assistance Center/Training Site (REAC/TS) or call (865) 576-3131
The U.S. National Response Team (NRT)
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) or call (800) DIAL-DOE
For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention