Radiation Blog

Lead Apron – What Is It Used For?

10.14.20 | Wednesday | Nofit Amir

Healthcare personnel, especially doctors and technicians, as well as first responders and scientists working with radioactive chemicals, are always at the risk of suffering severe exposure. Efforts to minimize exposure while increasing efficiency for this group of people have led to the design of modern lead aprons which are much more effective than their older siblings in reducing radioactive hazards.

What is a lead apron?

A lead apron is personal protective equipment made of radioactive shield material, worn to drastically minimize the dosage of radioactivity the wearer absorbs. The suit is made from rubber and lead and can be designed in a variety of ways. Each design, however, offers protection for the vital parts of the body as well as increased mobility and less weight.

The parts of a lead apron are:

  1. Head protector: Most lead aprons come with a protective cover for the head. Designed like a hat, it fits the head and has an adjustable strap.
  2. Face shield: The face shield is made from rubber material with a lead lining and clear plastic for vision. The shield offers protection for the face and sometimes extends down to the neck through an attached thyroid collar.
  3. Front cover: Full frontal protection is available. Made from a durable rubber material, the cover extends from the collar bone down to halfway between the knee and feet. The lead lining in the material is thick but light enough for comfort. The front cover has buttons or buckles to fasten the overlaying cover in place. There are also leaded pockets for extra convenience.
  4. The lower shield: The second part of the frontal shield covers the lower parts of the body from the waist down. There may also be a special collar called a gonadal collar. This provided an extra cover for the gonads and reproductive organs.
  5. Arm and shoulder cover: For arm protection, most aprons come with leaded gloves that extend up to the elbow. The shoulders of the main front cover have extra pads and memory cotton for extra support. This reduces the risk of back and muscular aches commonly experienced after prolonged use of lead aprons.
  6. Belt: Belts are sometimes added to increase comfort and efficiency. They may also hold digital radioactive counters for real-time monitoring.

How lead aprons are used

Lead aprons are used for medical procedures involving radiation at comparatively low doses. Fluoroscopy, dental procedure, and x-ray are some examples. A lead apron must be checked for a tear or wear before use and carefully removed afterward. It is also recommended to have a digital radiation counter or regular radiation level checks. For storage, they should be stored in an airless wardrobe, hung freely and not squeezed or folded.

lead apron for protection from radiation

Benefits of using a modern lead apron

  1. Safety: Lead aprons can attenuate up to 90% of 80 kVp radiation. This is possible because they offer the same protection as 0.25- to 1-mm thick lead. This protection is important because of the common health complications which health workers suffer after long years of radiation exposure. Some of these are seizures, migraines, organ failure, etc. Using lead aprons drastically reduces the chances for these conditions to develop.
  2. Comfort: Lead aprons amazingly combine safety and comfort. Traditional lead protection equipment is heavy and reduces mobility to a large extent. Lead aprons are light, allowing the wearers to move as much as they want and perform all their activities.

Is it important to note that lead aprons are only used for certain types of radiation? Heavier isotopes like 111In, 131I, 137Cs, or 131I. For those, heavier personal protective equipment is required. However, lead aprons are enough for most hospital procedures.

The modern lead apron can be considered among the most useful innovations of our age. Workers who are exposed to radioactive materials as a matter of necessity can do their jobs with the best assurance of safety.

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