What Is Radon Poisoning?
At room temperatures radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas and is a known cancer causing agent. Indoor radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, only to smoking, causing about 25,000 deaths annually. It is released from the decay of radium that is present in the soil. As it decays it seeps it way up through the ground and into the air. Normally this is a harmless process as the gas disperses into open air but if it accumulates in your house it becomes a health risk known as radon poisoning.
Radon poisoning causes cancer in both smokers and non smokers by depositing microscopic solid particles in the lung tissue causing the mutation of its cells into cancerous growths. This transient decay product is airborne and the primary concern is the inhalation and the accumulation of the particles in the lungs. It is estimated that 1 in 15 homes has elevated levels of radon. You can see why testing for contaminates of homes is important. It is the only way we can know for sure what our families are breathing, and that we need to combat it.
Radon gases enter the home through cracks in the foundation, floors and gaps around service pipes. While radon is more prevalent in some areas, any structure can have a problem, including schools and office buildings. Because the air pressure inside the building is generally lower than the air outside a suction effect is produced that draws the gas indoors-and along with it radon poisoning.
Although airborne particles are the primary risk radon poisoning is not limited to airborne paths, contamination of water is also a concern. This occurs when the neighborhood ground water is tainted with radon. Again, the risk is through inhalation as particles are released into the air while showering and other household uses. There is even a small risk of stomach cancer from the ingestion of radon contaminated water, but the amount of radon ingested is normally too small to have such an affect.
Testing is easy and can be handled by either the homeowner or a professional. Radon is measured in picocuries per liter or air (pCi/l). No safe levels have been established for radon so it is best to assume that any radon in the air is too much.
There are two types of radon testing, short term and long term. If you need results quickly then short term testing with charcoal canisters are the best choice. Place the test kit in the lowest level that is occupied in your home (first floor or basement). Close all windows and doors to keep drafts to a minimum. After the testing period of two or three days reseal the test kit for transfer to the proper testing facility. If you measure more than 4 pC/L, it is recommended you administer a second test for conformation.
Long term tests stay in the home for a longer period, usually more than 90 days, and will give a better indication of your year round exposure. This is generally considered to be a more accurate measurement. Again, after the testing period reseal and send for evaluation of radon poisoning levels, if any.
Reducing radon levels is accomplished in several ways. Sealing foundation cracks and plugging outside sources of air are two easy, long term solutions for reducing the risks for radon poisoning. Setting up an exhaust system beneath your house in the crawlspace equipped with a vent pipe is another reliable method. This is known as a soil suction radon reduction system. Using fans to blow air into the basement to attempt to equalize air pressures is also proven to help in many cases. If you feel that radon may be a problem in your home or business call your state radon office as soon as possible.