A Comparison Between Leaded and Lead-Free Aprons: What’s the Benefit of Going Lead-Free?

Since the identification of the necessity for X-ray radiation shielding, lead has been the most common material applied to prevent harmful radiation. Lead aprons have proven to be helpful in shielding patients and medical employees from unwanted radiation exposure from the beginning.

Yet, there are also some downsides to using lead-based aprons. For example, the weight of the lead might cause back and leg pain in doctors during extended operations.

Fortunately, alternative lead-free lighter-weight x-ray protection products are available to solve the lead-based product issues. The lead-free composite materials are growing in popularity, and lead apron manufacturers now offer various lead-free options for radiological professionals.

Standard lead for radiation shielding

The dangers of ionizing radiation have been known for over a century. Lead is among the most frequently applied materials for radiation shielding because it effectively decreases x-ray exposure due to its high density. Because lead is a dense metal, it can be used to protect against high-energy radiation such as gamma rays, x-rays, and other forms of nuclear radiation.

It also offers some extra benefits as it’s easily accessible, highly flexible, and has poor electrical conductivity. These characteristics make it a great fit for personal shielding applications such as lead aprons, lead vests, and lead gloves.

However, there are some downsides. For example, lead is a dangerous substance that must be recycled once the clothing has served its purpose. Furthermore, lead’s high weight makes it difficult to wear for lengthy periods of time.

The disadvantages of standard lead

A recent study conducted by the researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that long-term usage of heavy radiation-protective clothing is linked to musculoskeletal problems and weariness. According to surveys of interventional cardiologists and radiologists, it’s evident that there is a link between the usage of lead aprons and back difficulties.

Furthermore, the weight of lead aprons could cause back problems in professionals wearing the aprons for an extended period.

Professionals who were obliged to wear a lead apron reported increased work-related discomfort and sought medical care for pain more often than those in the control group found in a study of 1,543 cardiology and radiology employees.

What are lead-free aprons?

A lead-free apron is a lightweight alternative to the classic lead apron consisting of a combination of attenuating heavy metals other than lead (Pb). The materials used in lead-free aprons are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. The lead-free metals are usually a composite of aluminium, Antimony, bismuth, barium, tin, tungsten or titanium.

The combinations made from these metals can provide the same level of radiation attenuation offered by standard lead.

The difference in weight between a lead-free and a lead-containing apron is substantial. This is accomplished by the use of metals with lower atomic weights than lead, such as Antimony and bismuth. A lead-free composite made of Antimony and Bismuth has similar protective properties as the lead. Lead composite aprons function on a similar basis, with the exception that Antimony is mixed with lead to create a radiation-blocking substance.

Lead composite aprons function on a similar basis, with the exception that Antimony is mixed with lead to create a radiation-blocking substance.

The benefits of lead-free aprons

Radiation shielding products made from lead-free options offer lighter options for radiological professionals and patients.

Given that lead attenuates radiation at a greater rate than its lead-free and lead-composite competitors, the difference is usually just about 1% in most cases. But the benefit on the side of weight reduction comes multifold. Lead-composite aprons offer similar attenuation qualities as lead, although they are up to 24% lighter.

Furthermore, lead-free materials are also more flexible than both lead-composite and lead-containing materials, which might provide you with additional comfort.

Lead-free x-ray aprons are also a good option from an environmental perspective. Even though there are safe ways to discard and recycle lead clothes, the lead-free option is more convenient to recycle and does not pose a risk to the environment.