The Basics of Radon Mitigation

Radon is a chemical radioactive element with no smell, taste, or color. It has an atomic number of 86, and the Rn denotes it on the chemical elements table. It is naturally occurring and produced in minute quantities from the decaying of uranium found in soils and rocks. It may be found in water too.

Radon typically comes about as an intermediate step when uranium and thorium slowly decay into different short-lived radioactive substances like lead. In itself, it is a product of the instant decay of radium which is its isotope that is most stable. Radium is a chemical released from burning fuels, and excess exposure to it can be harmful.

Radon is one of the rarest elements, with a half-life of 3.8 days. However, it is an element that will be around on earth for a long while. This is because it is associated with uranium and thorium, some of the most available radioactive elements with billions of years in half-life.

When radon decays, it produces many short-lived nuclides that end up as stable lead isotopes. These are typically referred to as radon daughters. Under standard conditions, radon is gaseous and can easily be inhaled and therefore, it is a health hazard.

However, radon daughters are tiny solids that attach to surfaces and may potentially cause lung cancer when inhaled. You can learn more about the chemical here.

Radon is the single biggest contributor to background radiation for most individuals. The exposure level to it differs from place to place due to local geological differences. When present, the gas can readily occur in groundwater or other water bodies like hot springs. It also accumulates in places such as basements.

Effects of Radon On Humans

Like most gases, one cannot see, taste, or smell radon, but it can be a problem where you live. When it breaks free from the ground and into the air, it decays to form other radioactive particles. As humans and animals breathe, such particles get deposited on cells that line the airways.

This can potentially lead to lung cancer or damage the DNA. If it is outdoors, the gas rapidly dilutes into pretty low concentrations, and in this way, it is not a problem. On average, its outdoor level range from 5 Bq/m3 to 15Bq/m3. The challenge is when it is indoors and in places where there is minimal or not enough ventilation.

When indoors, the concentration is significantly higher. Places such as water treatment facilities, caves, mines, building basements are quite susceptible. Its level also varies considerably from about 10 Bq/m3 to 10,000 Bq/m3 in homes, offices, and schools. People in these buildings may unknowingly live and work in pretty high levels of gas.

Studies that analyzed its distribution patterns and how it affects health show a link between inhalation and lung cancer. In fact, the office of the United States Surgeon General warns that it is the second chief cause of lung cancer. The risk of lung cancer is especially high for people who smoke and have high radon levels in their homes.

There are about 21,000 deaths annually in the United States associated with lung cancer caused by this gas. Roughly 15% of these deaths, which is around 2900, occur amongst non-smokers.

This means it is the main cause of lung cancer in people who do not smoke. This is according to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Considerable uncertainties exist on how low-level exposures to the gas affect health. You will find more information on this here https://www.epa.gov/radon/health-risk-radon.

Testing For Radon

As radon cannot be seen nor perceived, the way to know if you are exposed to it is to test for it. The EPA provides an easy way to do this through “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon.” It recommends testing homes that are beneath the third floor.

It is a simple test, but you must follow the checklist and instructions carefully. This is because an improper test may yield inaccurate results, and you will need to do another one.

Additionally, if you interfere with the device or with environmental conditions, this may negate the result. This is illegal in certain states. The environmental conditions require that you keep your windows and doors closed except when going out or coming in.

You should also not operate fans or any other machines that will bring air in from the outside. Only those fans that are a part of the radon-reduction process may be used or small exhaust fans. These also may only operate for short periods while the test is ongoing.

How to Conduct the Radon Test

Before a test can be conducted, you need to notify the building occupants about it and the importance of adequate testing conditions. The occupants should be given written instructions and also a copy of the Guide explaining the directions carefully.

It should be conducted for a minimum of 48 hours, but some kits have a greater exposure period. You must maintain closed-house conditions at least 12 hours before starting the test and during its entirety.

You have to buy a kit for the test from hardware or an online store and follow the Guide to do it yourself. The test typically requires that you leave the kit in your building for some specified number of days. Afterward, you need to send the kit to a laboratory and wait for feedback.

If a qualified tester, seller, or lab cannot confirm the test’s veracity, you will need to take another one. If you prefer, you may hire professional testers to do the testing for you.

There is a possibility that radon can enter your home via your supply of water. This, although, is not as dangerous as when it comes from the soil. Therefore, if you happen to have a private well, it can be tested for radon.

If it has high chemical levels, it can be treated to remove it before it enters your house. If your water comes from a public supply and you have concerns about the chemical, you should reach your supplier.

Mitigating Radon

This is a way of eliminating or reducing the presence of radon in a building or from water supplies. Several methods may achieve mitigation. Some are used to prevent the entry of radon into a building, while others reduce its level after its entry. However, it is best to prevent its entry.

Mitigation is achieved through ventilation by collecting it from a membrane on the floor or below a concrete slab. It can also be done by air change increase in a building per hour. Activated charcoal or aeration systems may be used to remove the gas from water supplies.

If the radon level in your building is high, then you should take steps to lower this. The type of your house will determine the ideal mitigation method, and generally, this is categorized based on foundation design.

One common method to do so is to have a fan and vent pipe system installed. This helps to pull the gas from underneath the house to the outside. For houses with a combination of foundations such as basement and slab-on-grade, a combined mitigation method may be used.

Information on your home construction can be quite useful to the radon mitigation company when determining the mitigation technique to use. They will initially perform an inspection of your building, and based on this, they will design an ideal system.

If the visual inspection does not provide adequate information, the contractor may need to conduct a diagnostic test. This will help to develop the most suitable radon mitigation method to use. Whether this is needed is determined by your home’s foundation design as well as the material used to construct underneath your home. It may also depend on the contractor’s experience working with such types of houses.

The cost of radon mitigation can vary greatly depending on the way your house is built. This also will depend on the kind of system that will be used.

Getting Medical Help after Exposure

There are no particular tests to measure a person’s exposure level if exposed to radon. If you believe you have been exposed, you should talk to your physician to see if you need to do a checkup. This is to find out any traces of lung cancer.

Probable symptoms include cough, tightness in the chest, difficulty in breathing, trouble swallowing, etc. If you are a smoker and have been exposed to radon, it is imperative that you quit smoking. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer when you have been exposed.

People who might have been exposed because of their jobs can get compensation for this. This is through the U.S government’s Radiation Exposure Compensation Program.

Conclusion

Radon is a radioactive element that may be detrimental to health when a person is exposed to it. It cannot be seen, tasted, or perceived, making it more dangerous and can lead to lung cancer. When moving into a new building or suspecting some exposure, you should take steps to carry out a test.

If it is present, you should immediately reach out to contractors who offer mitigation services to help you prevent or eliminate it. They will use the most suitable mitigation method depending on various factors. You should also seek medical help immediately if you believe you have been exposed to it.

By Cate Daniels

On my 15th birthday, I became the designated gardener in my home. Now at 32, I have a small garden and every day I'm out trying different plants and seeing how they grow. I grow guavas, peaches, onions, and many others. Want to know more about me? Read it here.