Radon: a gas that can kill in homes

You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell it or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home or office. Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That’s because when you breathe air containing radon In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of deaths in the world. Radon is a colourless, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the environment. It comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soils and rocks.

In the open air, the amount of radon gas is very small and does not pose a health risk. However, in some confined spaces like ground floor flats,  air conditioned premises on lower floors, radon can accumulate to relatively high levels and become a health hazard. Exposure to high levels of radon has been associated with an increased risk of respiratory, radiation diseases like cancer, depending on the time length of exposure.

Because it is radioactive, radon decays. As it decays, it produces decay products, sometimes called “radon daughters” or “radon progeny”. Two of these progeny, polonium 218 and polonium 214 decay rapidly themselves, and emit alpha particles. When alpha particles hit an object, the energy in them is absorbed by the surface of the object. Human skin is thick enough to not be affected, but if you breathe in alpha particles, they can damage bronchial and lung tissue.

Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium, mercury, pesticides in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon can be found all over the world, specially developed countries. It can get into any type of building   homes, offices, and schools   and result in a high indoor radon level.  It comes from the natural decay of that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes

Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. Sometimes radon enters the home through water. In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

Radon gas can move through small spaces in the soil and rock upon which a house is built. It can seep into a home through dirt floors, cracks in concrete, sumps, joints, basement drains, under the furnace base and jack posts if the base is buried in the floor. Concrete block walls are particularly porous to radon and radon trapped in under ground can be released specially in the gardens, or where the water accumulates and monsoons.

A survey conducted recently  showed that radon levels in certain  cities were higher than in others. However, these same studies showed that it is impossible to predict whether any one place  will have a high level of radon. Factors such as the location of the house and its relation to the prevailing wind may be just as important as the source of the radon.

The Risk of Living With Radon

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in the  lungs and body when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung and other tissue and lead to respiratory, sinuses and  cancers. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop the diseases. And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other  substances. Smoke and pollution  combined with radon is an especially serious health risk.

Radon Gets In Through:

  • Cracks in solid floors
  • Construction joints
  • Cracks in walls
  • Gaps in suspended floors
  • Gaps around service pipes
  • Cavities inside walls
  • The water supply

Radon in Water

If you’ve tested the air in your home and found a radon problem, and your water comes from a well, have your water tested.

There are two main sources for the radon in your home’s indoor air, the soil and the water supply. Compared to radon entering the home through water, radon entering your home through the soil is usually a much larger risk.

The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk  from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

Radon in your home’s water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. ( Like Bombay uses stored water during whole year). Nearly 1 out of every 10 homes in the world, is estimated to have elevated radon levels.

How to Lower the Radon Levels

Since there is no known safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the radon level in your home.

There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system, known as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost efficient. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces.

Studies have proved a correlation between radon exposure and deaths. However, two recent independent scientific studies in Europe and North America show that respiratory and cancer risks extend to levels of radon.

Remedial measures be taken in a dwelling whenever the average annual radon concentration in the normal occupancy area exceeds 200 becquerels per cubic meter.

The higher the radon concentration, the sooner remedial measures should be taken. When remedial action is taken, the radon level should be reduced to a value as low as practicable

The construction of new dwellings should employ techniques that will minimize radon entry and will facilitate post construction radon removal, should this subsequently prove necessary.  Because there is some risk at any level, homeowners may want to reduce their exposure to radon

Radon Myths

  • Myth: Scientists are not sure that radon really is a problem.
    Fact:
    Although some scientists dispute the precise number of deaths due to radon, all the major health organizations agree with estimates that radon causes thousands of preventable  deaths every year.
  • Myth: Homes with radon problems can’t be fixed.
    Fact: There are simple solutions to radon problems in homes. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon problems in their homes. Radon levels can be readily lowered by improved sanitation and ventilation
  • Myth: Radon affects only certain kinds of homes.
    Fact: House construction can affect radon levels. However, radon can be a problem in homes of all types: old homes, new homes, drafty homes, insulated homes, homes with basements, and homes without basements. Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are among the factors that can affect radon levels in homes.
  • Myth: Radon is only a problem in certain parts of the country.
    Fact: High radon levels have been found in every state. Radon problems do vary from area to area, but the only way to know your radon level is to test.
  • Myth: A neighbor’s test result is a good indication of whether your home has a problem.
    Fact: It’s not. Radon levels can vary greatly from home to home.
  • Myth: Everyone should test their water for radon.
    Fact: Although radon gets into some homes through water, it is important to first test the air in the home for radon. If your water comes from a public water supply that uses ground water, call your water supplier.

© 2012, AIDEC World. All rights reserved.

5 comments on “Radon: a gas that can kill in homes
  1. i would agree that radon is indeed a silent killer! it could just be sitting around the corner of our houses unnoticed. this could be caused by facilities like heater or air conditioner units that are not regularly serviced or cleaned. a periodic clean-up could indeed help.

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