Know More About Radon
Radon is a radioactive gas found in some homes that in sufficient
concentrations can cause health problems. It is an odorless, colorless,
tasteless inert gas formed by the natural breakdown, or radioactive decay,
of the radium that occurs in trace amounts in soils and rocks.
Radon comes from uranium and radium in Earth and rock beneath home, well
water, building materials, natural gas, etc. Its major sources of radon
are: soil that contains radon-releasing material; water and natural gas
that has passed through underground areas containing radon; solar-heating
systems that use radon-emitting rocks to store heat; granite rock; and
uranium or phosphate mine tailings.
Radon is usually found in areas with basements. Sufficient concentrations
of it may cause serious health problems. The longer you are exposed to
radon, the higher the health risk is. There are no immediate symptoms,
such as radon-induced lung cancer that would usually occur years (5-25)
after exposure to radon. Lung cancer is the only health effect which has
been definitively linked with radon exposure. This is because radon gas
decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when
you breathe. As they break down further, the particles release small
bursts of energy that can damage lung tissue and can cause lung cancer.
Surveys have shown that smokers are at higher risk of developing
radon-induced lung cancer (ten times greater risk than ordinary people).
Getting chances of getting lung cancer and other radon-induced health
problems depend on the amount of radon in your home; the amount of time
you spend in your home with radon; and your smoking habit.
Radon is a major cause of lung cancer. Radon gas when inhaled increases
the risk of this type of cancer. Other than chain smokers, studies have
shown than the rate of underground with lung cancer has increased. The air
in the mines had high levels of radon and other radioactive compounds.
Although these levels were higher than home levels, there is also some
risk associated at lower levels.
In order for radon to cause lung cancer, the gas molecules must directly
contact the lung tissue. Damage to DNA may occur when alpha particles, a
radon by-product, attach to lung tissue. Smokers are at increased risk
since one radon component, radon daughters, can stick to smoke particles
or dust. In fact smokers have 20 times risk of non-smokers similarly
exposed to radon.
Exposure to radon through inhalation is generally associated with the
highest risks. The risk from ingestion of water poses a reduced health
hazard. The risks associated with inhalation are 5 times higher than the
risks from ingestion. Since radon evaporates from water, the total risk
from radon in water includes to components, a small amount that is inhaled
and the amount ingested.
How do you assess a level of radon concern? Each home provides a unique
set of circumstances. The radon levels in the home will be affected by
many factors such as: radon levels in air as well as in water and the
ventilation rates within the home. The source of highest concentration,
usually air levels, should elicit the attention.
To detect for radon, look for radon test kits that say “meets EPA
requirements.” The test should be conducted when windows and doors are
closed and placed in the basement. If a high level of radon is found, a
second long-term test (at least 3 months’ duration) is recommended to give
more accurate information about radon in the home. Radon generation into
homes is higher during winter months.
Radon Effects to Human Health
Radon and Smoking Relationship
Adapted from: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
- 1992, A Citizen’s guide to Radon: The Guide to
Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Radon (2nd
- 1993, Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon
- 1992, Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction: How to
Reduce Radon Levels in Your Home
- 1992, National Residential Radon Survey: Summary