Technical Papers

What is Radon?

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017 by Chelsea Cannata

When learning about radon everyone wants to know what exactly is radon. Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of radium and can be found in Oakmont, PA and surrounding areas. Even though you cannot see, smell or taste radon, the problem may still be in your home. Radon forms naturally from the decay of radioactive elements that are found in soil and rock throughout the world.

 

Radon is present indoors and outdoors. However, outdoors it is found at very low levels and can even be found in river and lake water. It is typically found at higher levels indoors because of the closed in air flow.

 

Radon is the second leading causer in lung cancer in the United States according to the surgeon general. Radon causes lung cancer when it breaks down and becomes radon progeny or daughter particles. The new radioactive particles are released into the air and grab onto dust particles and then humans and pets inhale them. Once they are inhaled the radioactive elements can mutate the DNA cells found on the soft tissue of the lungs. Mutated DNA cells are the cancer cells, which can divide without stopping and continue to spread to surrounding tissue. Lung cancer kills approximately 160,000 people in the U.S each year, and Radon is responsible for 11-15% of those deaths. Every 25 minutes someone in America dies from radon induced lung cancer.

 

Radon was discovered in a strange set or circumstances. It all started in 1984 in Pennsylvania when a new power plant was being built. An engineer kept setting off the radioactive alarms at the plant but there were no radioactive materials at the plant yet. So the team of specialists went to his home and tested for radioactivity and found that his home was 700 times higher than the safe level. The family was living in this home and breathing the air which is equivalent to smoking 200 packs of cigarettes a day! This is the reason that testing is now so necessary today.

 

Radon gets into your home in the natural movement of air in and out of buildings, chimneys, and flue stacks resulting from buoyancy. When the soil breaks down and produces radon, the house acts as a vacuum and pulls it into the home. It gets pulled into the home in several ways such as, concrete slabs, open sump pits, and exposed dirt in crawl spaces. Many other gasses are also pulled into the home and the air then moves naturally through the home from the lower to the upper levels.

 

Radon levels that are in the air are measured by unites of radioactivity per volume of air. In the United states that mean that it is measured by picocuries per liter (pCi/L). According to the U.S environmental protection agency (EPA) the average level is about 1.3 pCi/L. You want to address the issue if you get a reading of 4 or more.

 

How you test you house to discover whether or not you have high levels can be done several different ways. There is the continuous monitor, which is calibrated annually and the dealers go through extensive training to be sure that the monitor is placed in the correct spot of the home and that the data is interpreted correctly. The other form of testing is the test kits and they are comprised of a charcoal kit and there is no power required for these. The charcoal kits can be purchased in many places and are placed by the homeowner, they are then mailed into a company to read.

 

The test itself is done in the lowest level of the home that is suitable for occupancy. This typically represents an area where the greatest radon level may occur. It should also be conducted in a regularly used room. You should avoid testing in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or hallway. You should never disturb the test white it is testing, it should be placed somewhere that is out-of-the-way.

 

There is no such thing as a safe level of radon. However, the higher the reading the more likely you are to get lung cancer. This issue is not just a U.S issue it has become a problem all over the world. The world health organization has issued a consensus document establishing an action level of 2.7 pCi/L as opposed to the current 4 pCi/L. 

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