Radon

General Information:

  • Radon is a naturally occurring odorless, tasteless gas produced from the breakdown of radium which is scientifically linked to the decay of uranium.
  • Uranium and Radon are commonly found in rocks and soil making radon the largest source of exposure to naturally occurring radiation.
  • Radon 222, produced by the decay of Radium 226, is a type of Radon most commonly of concern in indoor environments.
  • The components of the element include its heaviness, it does not combine with other chemicals and its radioactive half-life is 4-days.
  • Being a heavy gas accounts for its tendency to collect in the basement.
  • Radon has a radioactive half-life of about 4 days; this means that one-half of a given amount of radon will decay to other products every 4 days.

Radon and Our Environment:

  • Radon exposure is next to impossible to avoid, but there is a difference in the amount of safe exposure and unhealthy exposure depending on the setting.
  • A low concentration of radon, about 0.4 pico curies per liter of air, is found in almost all rock and soil which inevitably escapes into the outdoor air.
  • Radon can then travel from outside to inside, increasing risk of exposure by seeping into buildings and homes through cracks in the foundation, gaps in the floors or walls and through sumps and drains.
  • Because radon compiles in the soil and rocks, radon levels are usually higher in basements, cellars or other structural areas in contact with soil.  But depending on the amount of radon in the underlying rocks, the level of radon concentration can differ.
  • Other factors effecting the concentration inside include the design of the house, the weather, time of day, and time of year.
  • “For most people by far the greatest exposure to radon comes in the home.”

Radon in Our Water:

  • Radon not only travels in the air but is also easily dissolved in water.
  • In areas such as Southwest Virginia where radium content is high in soils and rock, it directly effects local ground water and its level of radon concentration.
  • Municipal water systems hold and treat water, which helps release radon; so levels are very low by the time the water reaches homes.
  • The churning of water in washers, showers toilets and sinks releases much of the dissolved radon, therefore there is lesser risk for ingesting radon.
  • Those whose source of drinking water comes from private wells are at greater risk due to underground water moving through rock and soil containing radon

Radon and Our Body:

  • When radon decay seeps into the air in a home it clings to aerosols and dust making it available to inhale in the lungs.
  • The main route of entry of radon into the body is inhalation. However, most of the gas is exhaled before it decays and is retained in the lungs.
  • If not exhaled, radon particles can be cleared of the respiratory system through the body’s natural defense system or by being swallowed or coughed out.
  • If the lungs are never cleared of radon it will quickly decay, forming a radioactive decay product which will damage surrounding lung tissue.
  • Radon easily attaches to tobacco leaves and can enter the lungs when tobacco is smoked.
  • “Smoke in indoor environments also is very effective at picking up radon decay products from the air and making them available for inhalation.” (EPA)  Here lies the problem in association with lung cancer.  Rarely is radon absorbed in the blood affective other organs of the body.  Radon ingested from drinking water is excreted through urine over several days.
  • The greatest concern of radon exposure is the increase risk of lung cancer.

Radon and Cancer:

  • “The Surgeon General warns that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer {after cigarette smoking} in the United States today.” (The inspector speaks)  Therefore, “cigarette smoke makes radon much more dangerous.” (EPA SITE)
  • Alpha particles, which are a heavily ionized radiation byproduct of radon decay, can damage the DNA of lung cells which causes lung cancer.
  • “The Surgeon General warns that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer {after cigarette smoking} in the United States today.” (The inspector speaks)  Therefore, “cigarette smoke makes radon much more dangerous.” (EPA SITE)

Links for further information

Developed by:  Jane-Claire Bailey, Susan Dillera, Caleb Hild, and Lauren Torbett

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