The below article talks about the chemical gas radon, the impacts it can have, the measures that need to be taken to ensure you get rid of any radon in your concerning space, along with some frequently asked questions about radon and its impacts on the world around us.
How does radon gas enter my home or office space?
Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, produced by the decay of uranium that is present in the soil, rocks, water, etc. Air pressure inside an enclosed space such as your home is much lower than the pressure in the soil which houses the foundation for your house or workspace. Due to this, the enclosed space acts as a vacuum that sucks up the radon from the ground through the foundation cracks and other openings, into the enclosed space. Radon can also be present in well water, which could be used for different domestic purposes, during which individuals could be exposed to it. However, radon exposure from water sources is less probable than exposure to radon that originates from your foundation. In certain cases, it has been found out that particular building materials like granite or certain concrete products could also give off radon. In the US, radon from the soil is the principal source of radon observed in enclosed spaces (US EPA, 2003).
Discovered by a German chemist, Friedrich Ernst Dorn in 1900; Radon has an atomic number of 86, which means there are 86 protons in its nucleus. It is chemically denoted as ‘Rn’, average atomic mass is 222, in-room temperatures, it remains at gaseous state, melting point is -71 ℃, and boiling point is -61.7 ℃. There are 3 naturally occurring isotopes: Radon-219, Radon-220, and Radon-222; 33 isotopes that are unstable. The most common isotope is Rn-222 (Pedersen T., 2018).
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, that could have severe impacts on physical health, including the onset of lung cancer. Usually, radon is found in high concentrations in homes and workplaces, and since its tasteless, odorless, and colorless, it is usually not identified until there is a diagnosis of radon poisoning for someone exposed to high levels of radon. Radon is one of the leading causes in the world for lung cancer and has been found to contribute anywhere between 3% to 14% to all lung cancer cases in a country, depending on the national average of radon levels, and national radon emissions or strategies set in place.
Radon is produced during the natural radioactive decay of uranium, which can be found in rocks or soils. It can also be found in different water bodies occasionally. Radon has the capability to escape from the ground and latch onto air molecules, where it would decay further and cause the emission of radioactive particles. Radon is capable of entering our bodies via breathing and is deposited in our nasal pathways and lung tissue, where prolonged exposure and deposit formation could cause the initiation of cancer in the person.
Outdoor, radon can be diluted quickly and is only present in smaller concentrations that do not pose a threat to health, however, indoors, with limited ventilation, there is a possibility of increasing radon concentration and exposure, which could lead to severe health effects. Especially in places such as mines, caves, water treatment facilities, older buildings, etc. can have increased radon concentrations. Given the physical and chemical properties of radon, inhabitants and employees of such places could be potentially exposed to high levels of radon, which could cause them long-term distress and chronic health conditions.
Symptoms of Radon Poisoning
Radon poisoning builds up eventually, and may not show symptoms until quite late. Usually, either during the diagnosis of cancer caused by radon poisoning or when you’re on the verge of a diagnosis. Therefore, it is always advised to keep an eye out for the below symptoms of radon poisoning that you may experience (NRD, n.d.):
- Persistent cough
- Changes in voice and increased hoarseness
- Respiratory difficulties
- Coughing up blood
- Chest pain
- Increased frequencies of bronchitis or pneumonia
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Radon gas is a silent killer. It is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, and it can have devastating impacts on those who are exposed to it over long periods of time. This is why several state governments have taken steps to create awareness around radon, and ensure that citizens are aware of how to mitigate issues of increase in radon concentrations. Below are a few steps that need to be followed in case you believe you have been exposed to radon, and what should be done next:
- If you experience any symptoms in regards to radon poisoning, do ensure to get the necessary medical attention.
- Select a certified contractor who is able to measure radon in your enclosed space of concern, and who is able to recommend the adequate solution needed to ensure you’re not exposed to radon.
- Ensure that any installed radon mitigation systems are periodically evaluated and checked for efficient and effective removal of radon.
- Ensure that the radon mitigation system (if it exists in your current space), matches the needs of the area, and is able to effectively provide adequately clean air.
- Some of the most used methods include installing ventilation systems with vent pipes, fans, etc. that are capable of pulling radon from the ground and emitting it outdoors. This is called a soil depressurization system.
- Other steps could include increasing ventilation into your enclosed space by opening windows and vents, installing fans, sealing foundation cracks, sealing dangerous openings and crawlspaces, etc.
- Another measure employed is the home pressurization system, which uses a fan to blow air into the space, to create enough pressure to prevent the inflow of radon to the concerned enclosed space. This method is limited in its effectiveness, and requires several factors to align in order to work.
- Different foundation types would require different kinds of mitigation structures, it is always best to contact a specialist to understand what kind of mitigation system would best work for your house or office space.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs): Does radon in my home or workspace have lasting impacts on my health?
When do radon poisoning symptoms show up?
One of the main reasons that radon poisoning is as dangerous as it is lethal is because radon has the capability to build and form deposits in our body, and symptoms of radon poisoning may not appear until too late. It is also to be noted that initial symptoms of radon poisoning may look like the flu, due to which they may be dismissed and treated as generic flu or allergy. It has also been found that radon symptoms may show up late and aren’t diagnosed as radon poisoning until cancer has been identified or is close to being identified. This is one of the main reasons that several state governments and experts recommend periodical checking of indoor air quality levels so that tabs are being kept and mitigation strategy can be taken up as and when the problem arises, rather than waiting until physical health has deteriorated severely.
Which radon test kits are best?
Here is a link to an article that compares different kinds of at-home radon test kits. It is always best to remember that long-term radon test kits are more accurate and provide users with a clearer understanding of the degree of mitigation strategies that may be required.
Other FAQs about Air quality that you may be interested in.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (n.d.). Reduce Radon Levels in your Home. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.cdc.gov/radon/radon-action.html
Dale T. (2022, January 27). The best radon test kits of 2022. Bob Villa. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.bobvila.com/articles/best-radon-test-kit/
Pedersen T. (2018, August 01). Facts about Radon. Live Science. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.livescience.com/39546-radon.html
National Radon Defense (NRD). (n.d.). Radon Symptoms. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.nationalradondefense.com/radon-information/radon-symptoms.html
US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2003, February). A consumer’s guide to radon reduction. How to fix your home. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.cpe.rutgers.edu/CT-Radon/downloads/Consumers-Guide-to-Radon-Reduction.pdf
US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2013, March). Consumer’s guide to radon reduction. How to fix your home. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-02/documents/2013_consumers_guide_to_radon_reduction.pdf
US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). (2016). Consumer’s guide to radon reduction. How to fix your home. Viewed on 02-17-2022. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-12/documents/2016_consumers_guide_to_radon_reduction.pdf