Contamination is the presence of a minor and unwanted constituent (contaminant) in material, physical body, natural environment, at a workplace, etc.


"Contamination" also has more specific meanings in science:

  • In chemistry, the term usually describes a single constituent, but in specialized fields the term can also mean chemical mixtures, even up to the level of cellular materials.

All chemicals contain some level of contamination. Contamination may be recognized or not and may become an issue if the contaminated chemical is mixed with other chemicals or mixtures and causes additional chemical reactions. The additional chemical reactions can sometimes be beneficial, in which case the label ‘contaminant’ is replaced with reactant or catalyst. If the additional reactions are detrimental, other terms are often applied such as toxin, poison or pollutant depending on the chemistry involved. A major fraction of chemistry is involved with identifying, isolating, and studying contaminants.

  • In environmental chemistry the term is in some cases is virtually equivalent to pollution, where the main interest is the harm done on a large scale to humans or to organisms or environments that are important to humans.
  • In radiation protection the radioactive contamination is radioactive substances on surfaces, or within solids, liquids or gases (including the human body), where their presence is unintended or undesirable, or the process giving rise to their presence in such places,.[1][2]
Also used less formally to refer to a quantity, namely the activity on a surface (or on a unit area of a surface).
Contamination does not include residual radioactive material remaining at a site after the completion of decommissioning.
The term radioactive contamination may have a connotation that is not intended.
The term radioactive contamination refers only to the presence of radioactivity, and gives no indication of the magnitude of the hazard involved.

See also Environmental monitoring, Radiation monitoring

  • In food chemistry and medicinal chemistry, the term "contamination" is used to describe harmful intrusions, such as the presence of toxins or pathogens in food or medicinal drugs.
  • In forensic science, a contaminant can be complex materials such as hair or skin particles arising from sources not related to the ongoing investigation.
  • In the biological sciences accidental introduction of "foreign" material ('contamination') can seriously distort the results of experiments where small samples are used. In cases where the contaminant is a living microorganism, it can often multiply and take over the experiment, especially cultures, and render them useless.
  • In geology and especially geochemistry, it can have similar effects where even a few grains of "modern" dust can distort results of sophisticated experiments.
  • the term "contamination" is sometimes used to describe accidental transfers of organisms from one natural environment to another.
  • it has even been used in the "Directed panspermia" hypothesis about the origin of life on Earth, which suggests that visiting aliens accidentally infected the planet with microbes from their own world.[3]

See also


  1. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency (2007). IAEA Safety Glossary: Terminology Used in Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection. Vienna: IAEA. ISBN 92-0-100707-8. 
  2. ^ International Atomic Energy Agency (2010). Programmes and Systems for Source and Environmental Radiation Monitoring. Safety Reports Series No. 64.. Vienna: IAEA. pp. 234. ISBN 978-92-0-112409-8. 
  3. ^ Crick, F. H.; Orgel, L. E. (1973). "Directed Panspermia". Icarus 19 (3): 341–348. Bibcode 1973Icar...19..341C. doi:10.1016/0019-1035(73)90110-3 

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  • contamination — [ kɔ̃taminasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • mil. XIVe; lat. contaminatio 1 ♦ Vx Souillure résultant d un contact impur. 2 ♦ Envahissement (d un objet, d un milieu, d un organisme vivant) par des micro organismes pathogènes (⇒ contage, contagion), ou par des… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • contamination — CONTAMINATION. s. f. Souillure. Contamination légale. Suivant la Loi de Moïse, il y avoit plusieurs sortes de contaminations. Il est vieux …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • Contamination — Con*tam i*na tion (k[o^]n*t[a^]m [i^]*n[=a] sh[u^]n), n. [L. contaminatio.] The act or process of contaminating; pollution; defilement; taint; also, that which contaminates. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Contamination — (v. lat.), Befleckung …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Contamination — Contamination, lat., Besudelung, Befleckung …   Herders Conversations-Lexikon

  • contamination — I noun adulteration, corruption, debauchment, decay, defilement, degradation, despoilment, impureness, impurity, infection, pollution, vitiation II index air pollution, defilement, detriment, perversion …   Law dictionary

  • contamination — (n.) early 15c., from L. contaminationem (nom. contaminatio), noun of action from pp. stem of contaminare (see CONTAMINATE (Cf. contaminate)). Figurative sense is from c.1620; specifically of radioactivity from 1913 …   Etymology dictionary

  • contamination — [n] adulteration contagion, corruption, decay, defilement, dirtying, disease, epidemic, filth, foulness, impurity, infection, pestilence, plague, poisoning, pollution, radioactivation, rottenness, spoliation, taint; concepts 230,306,674 Ant.… …   New thesaurus

  • contamination — Contamination. s. f. v. Soüilleure. Il ne se dit que de soüilleures de la loy de Moyse …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • contamination — [kən tam΄ə nā′shən] n. [ME contaminacioun < L contaminatio] 1. a contaminating or being contaminated 2. something that contaminates …   English World dictionary

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