Radon Pollution

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive chemical element, which is colorless, odorless and tasteless in property. It occurs naturally as an intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains through which thorium and uranium slowly decay into lead. Radon, itself, is a decay product of radium. Radon will be present in nature long into the future in spite of its short half-life as it is continually being regenerated. About half of the total radiation effective dose to the general public is due to the irradiation of the lungs by alpha particles following the inhalation of radon decay products.

 

Radon Pollution

Radon gas is a health hazard. It is often the single largest contributor to an individual’s background radiation dose. Exposure to natural airborne radon in indoors has been identified as the primary mode of radiation exposure. Despite its short lifetime, radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in buildings, especially, due to its high density, in low areas such as basements and crawl spaces. Radon can also occur in ground water – for example, in some spring waters and hot springs.

It has been established that, the dose due to inhaled radon and its progeny accounts for more than 50% of the total radiation dose that the world population receive from the natural sources of radiation. [1] It has also been found that the radon and its progeny are responsible for 5-20% of all lung cancer deaths in USA and hence about 21,000 lung cancer deaths occur annually from radon-induced lung cancer in the USA. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States. As radon itself decays, it produces other radioactive elements called radon daughters (also known as radon progeny) or decay products. Unlike the gaseous radon itself, radon daughters are solids and stick to surfaces, such as dust particles in the air. If such contaminated dust is inhaled, these particles can also cause lung cancer.

Radon Mitigation

The first step is to get a test done to check the levels of Radon in your surroundings. Air-radon levels fluctuate naturally on a daily and seasonal basis. A short term test (90 days or less) might not be an accurate assessment of a home’s average radon level, but are recommended for initial testing to quickly determine unhealthy conditions. Transient weather such as wind and changes in barometric pressure can affect short-term concentrations as well as ventilation such as open windows and the operation of exhaust fans.

Testing for radon in the air is accomplished using passive or active devices placed in the building. Some devices are promptly sent to a laboratory for analysis, others calculate the results on-site. Radon-in-water testing requires a water sample being sent to a laboratory.

Radon mitigation is any process used to reduce radon gas concentrations in the breathing zones of occupied buildings or radon from water supplies. Mitigation of radon in the air is accomplished through ventilation, either collected below a concrete floor slab or membrane on the ground, or by increasing the air changes per hour in the building.

 

The most common approaches are active soil depressurization (ASD) and mechanical ventilation (MV). Experience has shown that ASD is applicable to most buildings since radon usually enters from the soil and rock underneath and MV is used when the indoor radon is emitted from the building materials.

February 27, 2018

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