Radon Fact Sheet

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the Surgeon  General’s Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer  deaths are caused each year by radon. Radon is the second leading cause  of lung cancer. Radon-induced lung cancer costs the United States over  $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care  costs. (Based on National Cancer Institute statistics of 14,400 annual  radon lung cancer deaths – Oster, Colditz & Kelley, 1984). 


According to the US EPA, nearly 1 in 3 homes checked in seven states  and on three Indian lands had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s  recommended action level for radon exposure.


The alpha radiation emitted by radon is the same alpha radiation  emitted by other alpha generating radiation sources such as plutonium.


A family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/L is exposed to  approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory  Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a  radioactive waste site. (25 mrem limit, 800 mrem exposure)


An elementary school student that spends 8 hours per day and 180 days  per year in a classroom with 4 pCi/L of radon will receive nearly 10  times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at  the edge of a nuclear power plant. (25 mrem limit, 200 mrem exposure)


Most U.S. EPA lifetime safety standards for carcinogens are  established based on a 1 in 100,000 risk of death. Most scientists agree  that the risk of death for radon at 4 pCi/L is approximately 1 in 100.  At the 4 pCi/L EPA action guideline level, radon carries approximately  1000 times the risk of death as any other EPA carcinogen. It is  important to note that the action level is not a safe level, as there are no “safe” levels of radon gas.

Radon Testing

Radon Testing

What is Radon?

 

A layman’s description

Radon is a cancer-causing radioactive  gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in  your home. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second  leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. If you smoke  and your home has high radon levels, you’re at high risk for developing  lung cancer. Some scientific studies of radon exposure indicate that  children may be more sensitive to radon. This may be due to their higher  respiration rate and their rapidly dividing cells, which may be more  vulnerable to radiation damage.


A scientific description

PROPERTIES: Radon is a gaseous highly radioactive element  discovered by English physicist Ernest Rutherford in 1899. The discovery  is also credited to German physicist Friedrich Ernst Dorn in 1900. More specifically, Rutherford  discovered radon’s alpha radiation and Dorn discovered that radium was  releasing a gas.


Radon is a colorless chemically-unreactive inert gas. The atomic  radius is 1.34 angstroms and it is the heaviest known gas–radon is nine  times denser than air. Because it is a single atom gas (unlike oxygen,  O2, which is comprised of two atoms) it easily penetrates many common  materials like paper, leather, low-density plastic (like plastic bags,  etc.) most paints, and building materials like gypsum board (sheetrock),  concrete block, mortar, sheathing paper (tar paper), wood paneling, and  most insulations.


Radon is also fairly soluble in water and organic solvents. Although  reaction with other compounds is comparatively rare, it is not  completely inert and forms stable molecules with highly electronegative  materials. Radon is considered a noble gas that occurs in several  isotopic forms. Only two are found in significant concentrations in the  human environment: radon-222, and radon-220. Radon-222 is a member of  the radioactive decay chain of uranium-238. Radon-220 is formed in the  decay chain of thorium-232. Radon-222 decays in a sequence of  radionuclides called radon decay products, radon daughters, or radon  progeny. It is radon-222 that most readily occurs in the environment.  Atmospheric releases of radon-222 results in the formation of decay  products that are radioisotopes of heavy metals (polonium, lead,  bismuth) and rapidly attach to other airborne materials such as dust and  other materials facilitating inhalation.


USE: Radon has been used in some spas for presumed medical  effects. In addition, radon is used to initiate and influence chemical  reactions and as a surface label in the study of surface reactions. It  has been obtained by pumping the gasses off of a solution of a radium  salt, sparking the gas mixture to combine the hydrogen and oxygen,  removing the water and carbon dioxide by adsorption, and freezing out  the radon.


PRODUCTION: Radon is not produced as a commercial product.  Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas and comes from the  natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of uranium. It is usually found in  igneous rock and soil, but in some cases, well water may also be a  source of radon.

EXPOSURE: The primary routes of potential human exposure to  radon are inhalation and ingestion. Radon in the ground, groundwater, or  building materials enters working and living spaces and disintegrates  into its decay products. Although high concentrations of radon in  groundwater may contribute to radon exposure through ingestion, the  inhalation of radon released from water is usually more important.


RADON IN THE WORKPLACE: In comparison with levels in outdoor  air, humans in confined air spaces, particularly in underground work  areas such as mines and buildings, are exposed to elevated  concentrations of radon and its decay products. Exhalation of radon from  ordinary rock and soils and from radon-rich water can cause significant  radon concentrations in tunnels, power stations, caves, public baths,  and spas. The average radon concentrations in houses are generally much  lower than the average radon concentrations in underground ore mines.

Workers are exposed to radon in several occupations. In countries for  which data were available, concentrations of radon decay products in  underground mines are now typically less than 1000 Bq/m3 EEC Rn (approx.  28 pCi/L). Underground uranium miners are exposed to the highest levels  of radon and its decay products. Other underground workers and certain  mineral processing workers may also be exposed to significant levels.


Should you test for radon?

Testing is the only way to know your home’s radon levels. There are  no immediate symptoms that will alert you to the presence of radon. It  typically takes years of exposure before any problems surface. The US  EPA, Surgeon General, American Lung Association, American Medical Association, and National Safety Council recommend testing your home for radon because testing is the only way to know your home’s radon levels.

Radon is a national environmental health problem. Elevated radon  levels have been discovered in every state. The US EPA estimates that as  many as 8 million homes throughout the country have elevated levels of  radon. Current state surveys show that 1 home in 5 has elevated radon levels.


Can you fix the problem?

If your home has high concentrations of radon there are ways to  reduce it to acceptable levels. Most radon problems can be fixed by a  do-it-yourselfer for less than $500. If you want or require the  assistance of a professional you may wish to look at the list of certified radon mitigators for your state.


Radon.com

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