Radon, whose name is derived from its radioactive parent radium, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless chemically inactive gas. In other words, it is a radioactive gas that you can not detect with any of your senses. However, radon is naturally occurring and all around you and your family. If it is not properly taken care of, it can cause serious health problems, especially if your home is not properly ventilated.
The origin of radon starts with a naturally occurring element called uranium, which is scattered all throughout the earth’s crust. Uranium is a dense radioactive metal which is used in nuclear reactors. Naturally, uranium starts to decay over time and will take up to 4.5 billion years to go through half of its material. Therefore, uranium is something we will deal with for the rest of our lives. There are several isotopes of uranium, however the most common is uranium 238. Radon, unfortunately, is part of this isotope’s long decaying process. For this reason, radon can be found everywhere, outdoors and indoors. The average outdoor radon level is 0.4 pCi/L (picoCurries/Liter). The average indoor radon level is 1.3 pCi/L, which increases the health risk for you and your family.
Radon levels can actually reach much higher concentrations, especially at the lowest level of your home such as basements. The EPA indicates that at 4 pCi/L is the threshold to take immediate action. This has been likened to having 200 chest x-rays per year, about 50 times the suggested maximum amount of radiation you should be exposed to in a year for medical reasons. The EPA’s minimum threshold is 2 pCi/L, and even then it is stated that you should attempt to bring this concentration even lower. Needless to say, the EPA and Surgeon Generals Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year, are caused by radon (85-89% of those diagnosed with lung cancer did not live beyond 5 years, according to the EPA). Making radon the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, and substantially increasing the risk of lung cancer for smokers.
So just what makes radon so dangerous? well, it’s radioactive, and as with all radioactive isotopes, it decays. The initial half life of radon is 3.8 days, after which time it will release an alpha particle and decay to Polonium 218. (In other words, a small atomic explosion will occur and release energy.) This daughter isotope has a half life of only 3 minutes before releasing another alpha particle and decaying into lead 214. The lead will then release a beta particle and decay into an unstable isotope of bismuth. This cycle continues, releasing two more alpha and beta particles, and eventually stopping with a stable isotope of lead. Each radioactive decay releases energy and can cause damage at the microscopic scale until the isotope reaches a point of stabilization.
When you or one of your family members decides to walk into a room with radon in it, this chain of radioactive decay will take place inside your lungs. The small particle bombardment on your soft lung tissue will cause damage to each cell it destroys. Even though our body does a very good job at replacing each damaged cell, there are some cells that mutate in rare occasions due to the abundance of repetitions our body has to go through and thus, lung cancer is created.
At the moment, the best thing you can do is to get the radon out of your house! This means you will need to be sure that your home is properly ventilated, especially basements and crawlspaces! Radon is heavier then air, so these lower floors usually have the highest concentrations of Radon. Creating a negative pressure in these parts of your home will pull any radon inside your home and pump it outside where it will quickly be naturally diluted.
Here at Solaro Energy Inc. we develop and manufacture a variety of products that can mitigate and remove the radon from your home. This includes our basement and crawlspace ventilation systems. Each system is capable of moving a massive amount of air, at a very high exchange rate, out of your home. This means it will pump out the Radon as well!
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