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How big of a dose of radiation do you get when reading Playboy?

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Glossy magazines often contain a substance that has elevated levels of uranium and thorium. This means that reading one for various lengths of time slightly heightens your level of radiation exposure. Find out how much magazines like Playboy are poisoning your body, even if they're not corrupting your mind and polluting your soul.

Whenever we pick up a glossy magazine, we owe a debt of gratitude to Georgia, the state that has a thriving kaolin mining business. Kaolin, once used in the production of porcelain, is a soft clay. When mixed together with wood pulp, it smooths over the gaps between the stringy cellulose fibers, and makes paper smooth and lustrous. Kaolin is especially good for color photos, and used extensively in glossy magazines focusing on image and photography.


It's also good for storing uranium. Uranium and thorium, two radioactive elements, are found in kaolin, and they can't be removed by any process that would let the kaolin remain a practical option for paper manufacturers. So the uranium and thorium come along for the ride, ending up in magazines and high-quality photo paper.

Researchers conducted an experiment to measure the amount of uranium and thorium in the average magazine, and how much exposure a person would get from that magazine over the course of an hour. Magazines were shredded, weighed, and their radiation levels measured and compared against the background level of radiation. The test found that there were about 0.15 to 0.35 picocuries per gram of uranium and 0.3 to 0.6 picocuries per gram of thorium. A 'curie' is a unit of measurement which describes the concentration of radioactive substances in a material by the rate at which they are decaying. A picocurie is a trillionth of a curie.


Here is a graph of the energy given off by a Playboy magazine mysteriously left in the lab.

Overall, the radiation exposure of reading a 500 gram magazine was calculated to be 0.0015 microrem per hour. That is, we pick up about 0.0015 millionths of a rem per hour when we read a magazine. In comparison, the average background radiation is 0.008 millirem, or thousandths of a rem, per hour. Eating a banana is 0.01 thousandth of a rem per hour. So you're probably fine not only with reading Playboy (or Playgirl) magazines, but building your house out of them and maybe eating a couple of them while you're at it. Just don't read them while eating a banana. Apart from the radiation exposure, that's still illegal in most states.

Via Orau, ISU, and