Radon is a naturally occurring gas found in our environment. It is present in almost all rock, soil and water found on earth. Radon itself is a harmless, chemically inert gas. What is dangerous about radon is that it breaks down into polonium & lead particles. These are chemically very active as well as radioactive.
Radon is Toxic
Radon particles cause lung cancer, and are a threat to health because they tend to collect in homes, sometimes to very high concentrations. Radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking. Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year .Radon is the largest source of exposure to naturally occurring radiation.
Because radon is radioactive, it gives the lungs a dose of radiation when it is inhaled. Over time, this radiation dose will cause cells in your lungs to mutate into cancerous cells. These cells then grow into a cancerous tumor. Although there is no conclusive data on radon’s effects on children, they have been known to have greater risk than adults for certain types of radiation induced cancer.
Where Does Radon Come From?
Radon results from the breakdown of uranium. Since it is a heavy gas, this accounts for its tendency to collect in basements or other low places in housing. It has no color, odor, or taste. Radon, from rocks and soil, creeps through cracks or spaces between particles up to the outside air. If this air happens to be in your basement, from cracks in your foundation floors, it will collect in higher concentrations than if released to the outside air.
Radon dissolves in water, and easily leaves water that is exposed to the atmosphere, especially if the water is agitated. Consequently, radon levels are very low in rivers and lakes, but water drawn from underground can have elevated radon concentrations. Radon that decays in water leaves only solid decay products which will remain in the water as they decay to stable lead.
The concentration of radon measured in a house depends on many factors, including the design of the house, local geology and soil conditions, and the weather. Almost all risk from radon comes from breathing air with radon and its decay products. There is no safe level of radon; any exposure poses some risk of cancer. The best way to assess exposure to radon is by measuring concentrations of radon (or radon decay products) in the air you breathe at home.
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. Radon testing is inexpensive and easy–it should only take a few minutes of your time. You can also hire a trained contractor to do the testing for you.
Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels. The best method for reducing radon in your home will depend on how radon enters your home and the design of your home. For example, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. Radon reduction systems work and they are not too costly.
Radon in Water
Municipal water systems hold and treat water, which helps to release radon, so that levels are very low by the time the water reaches our homes. But, people who have private wells, particularly in areas of high radium soil content, may be exposed to higher levels of radon.
The EPA is working with home builders and building code organizations. Their goals are to help newly constructed homes be more radon resistant and to encourage radon testing when existing homes are sold.
Radon was discovered in 1900 by Friedrich Ernst Dorn, who called it radium emanation. In 1908 William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray, renamed it niton and isolated it, determined its density, and determined that it was the heaviest known gas. It has been called “radon” since 1923.