One in every 15 houses in the country has tested with an unsafe level of radon.
This makes you question what does radon do to your body, really?
We all know that anything in excess is dangerous for our overall well-being, and radon is one of them.
What is radon, and how does it affect us? How do we know if we are suffering from overexposure to it?
These are the questions that we will answer today.
What Is Radon?
Radon is a gas. It is one of the gases that you cannot smell and taste, making it invisible to humans and harder to detect by natural means.
This radioactive gas naturally comes from the earth. It usually starts from the heavy metal uranium found in the ground and rocks.
When uranium undergoes radioactive decay, it turns into radium, which breaks down and turns into radon.
As this radioactive radon gas escapes the soil, it naturally becomes part of groundwater and the air we breathe.
That is why we are always exposed to radon, making it part of our everyday lives.
What Does Radon Do to You?
Now that we know how it is formed, what are the radon health effects? What does it do to our health?
If there is radon in the air, its radioactive particles emit radiation and are captured in the lungs, which will become a health hazard as it continues to accumulate.
Next to cigarette smoking, radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer. However, it takes years before you notice any symptoms.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, most lung cancer deaths among non-smokers are due to radon exposure.
So, if you are a smoker, you double the risk of getting lung cancer if you are also exposed to radon emissions.
Various Ways Radon Enter the Home
All types of dwellings can be susceptible to radon exposure as it enters our homes in many ways.
Radon in Soil
The radioactive particles get mixed with the air coming in through cracks in our floors and walls.
It can also enter through construction joints, gaps from service pipes, and various cavities in our interior walls.
Radon in Water
You may also find radon’s presence in the water entering our homes, especially if it’s coming from wells or groundwater.
Is Radon Higher in Summer or Winter?
Radon levels vary depending on the season. Several claims say Radon levels are higher during winter due to several factors. Here are some of them.
Closed Doors and Windows
Radon naturally escapes the ground into the air and groundwater. It can enter our homes through its foundations, gradually going up inside the house.
During winter, we rarely open doors and windows so that we can stay warm inside. However, we also trap radon particles with no means of escape.
Snow and Ice Barriers
There’s plenty of ice and snow surrounding our houses during winter. These barriers prevent radon gas from leaving the grounds outside.
The only way out for this radioactive gas is through the grounds under our houses and its foundations.
Chimney or Stack Effect
We usually heat our homes during the cold season. As we do, we tend to pull more air into the house to balance the pressure.
This effect happens when air underneath the house goes up and escapes through the top. This incoming air contains radon particles.
How Long Does It Take to Be Affected by Radon?
Radon is always present in the air that we breathe, whether it’s inside or outside of our homes.
Still, the gas particles we inhale in a day may be minimal and may not cause an alarm.
There’s no proof that radon inhalation can cause temporary health concerns like coughing, fever, headache, or shortness breath.
However, constant inhalation of this gas will eventually take a toll on our health in the long run.
We may see radon side effects in our overall well-being within five to 25 years of continuous exposure.
What Are the Symptoms of Radon Poisoning?
What are the symptoms of radon poisoning? How do we know that we have been exposed to this gas?
We don’t have a way of knowing how much of this radioactive gas goes into our lungs through inhalation.
Ironically, there will be no radon poisoning symptoms that are visible right away.
The high radon levels symptoms usually take years to appear through respiratory problems.
One of the most widespread illnesses associated with symptoms of radon poisoning is lung cancer.
People suffering from this disease may experience persistent cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pains.
They may also suffer from other respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia since radioactive particles get caught in the lungs.
As lung cancer progresses, the patient may cough up blood and lose appetite, resulting in weight loss.
Testing for Home Radon Level
According to EPA, the average radon level inside your house is at 1.3 picocuries per liter or pCi/L, while the outdoor level must be at 0.4 pCi/L.
The United States Surgeon General’s office advocates radon testing for all homes in the country. This is because it’s the most effective way to know your exposure level.
Radon testing is affordable and easy. You can buy test kits online or from hardware stores available for short- and long-term testing.
However, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests coordinating with your state’s radon office to determine what kind of test kit is suitable for your area.
Short-Term Testing Kit
This testing kit needs to be in your home for two to 90 days.
It provides a faster result, but it will only measure the radon level for the duration.
Radon levels regularly change according to the season and weather conditions. Thus, experts recommend radon testing twice a year.
Long-Term Testing Kit
This testing kit is called as such since it stays inside your house for more than 90 days.
It does this so that it can record the radon levels as the season changes.
After completing either of the tests, follow the packaging instructions, and send it back for analysis.
Radon Test Devices
A radon test device can identify if what you have in your home is radon gas or the byproduct of its radioactive decay.
Radon test devices are available in two categories: active and passive.
1. Passive Devices
Passive radon test devices do not need electrical power to operate.
The kit consists of the following components that trap the radon and byproducts required for analysis later.
Alpha Track Detector
The alpha particles are imprinted on the plastic film attached to the detectors.
It gets chemical treatment from the laboratory after completing the test.
The procedure makes the particles visible, making it countable as it is the testing’s primary purpose.
Charcoal Canister and Charcoal Liquid Scintillation Detector
These components suck in the particles, attaching it to the charcoal.
Once in the laboratory, the radioactive emissions are directly counted using the sodium iodide counter.
Another way of counting the particles is by converting them to light through a liquid scintillation medium and detectors.
Electret Ion Detector
This component has a statically charged Teflon disc that reduces the electrical charge of the particles.
The technician in the laboratory calculates the radon level from the Teflon disc after measuring the reduced charge.
You can buy all these devices from the hardware or online except for the electret ion detector, which is only available from the laboratory.
Passive devices are affordable and easy to use compared to the active ones we will discuss next.
2. Active Devices
Active devices require electricity as it involves monitoring machines.
These gears continuously identify and log the radon level.
You need the professional services of a trained tester to operate these expensive gears.
How to Reduce High Radon Levels at Home
Once you complete the testing and have the results, what should be your next step?
EPA has some suggestions on what you need to do to prevent radon side effects.
For test results higher than four pCi/L, repeat the test.
If it’s still high, consider installing a radon-reduction system. You can also install the same system if the test outcome is between two and four pCi/L.
Conduct second testing after several months to see if the system is effective.
To ensure that you will not suffer from high radon levels symptoms, try to dissuade cigarette smoking in your home.
You can also purify indoor air by increasing its flow inside the house through the use of fans, vents, and open windows.
Sealing cracks on your floors and walls can also help prevent this gas from entering your home.
Radon Myths and Facts
Recent studies have proved that prolonged exposure to radon gas will eventually pay a toll on our health.
Still, you might have heard of radon myths believed by many until numerous research proved otherwise.
MYTH #1: Radon gas is not dangerous.
In 1995, Dr. Bernard Cohen, an American scientist, came out with his study challenging the radon findings by the Environmental Protection Agency.
He claimed there’s an error in EPA’s findings concerning the agency’s understanding of the radon gas levels’ risk to our health.
He said that just because high radon levels cause cancer, specifically lung cancer, it does not necessarily mean that low levels are also harmful.
The World Health Organization presented a neutral report after analyzing Dr. Cohen’s study to support the EPA’s findings.
In addition to the WHO’s report, other agencies like the American Lung Association, the Center for Disease Control, and the American Medical Association agree with EPA that radon exposure poses human health hazards.
MYTH #2: Radon testing is expensive and tedious.
The initial short-term radon testing method is inexpensive.
It’s a straightforward process that requires two to seven days to complete.
It may not be as accurate as the long-term method, but it will inform you if your home has a high radon level.
MYTH #3: You cannot fix radon problems in every home.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only six percent of houses in the United States require radon mitigation.
There are also different ways to monitor and reduce radon levels in every home and establishment.
MYTH #4: Radon only exists in specific home types.
The existence of radon in a home does not depend on a particular house type or model.
We have mentioned that it is part of the air we breathe as it comes from the earth.
The existence of radon and its level depends on different factors, like the atmosphere and soil conditions in the area.
The type of construction materials used and how the house was built also play a significant role in radon levels.
MYTH #5: Radon only exists in specific regions.
Some regions have more radon than others, but that doesn’t mean that people in areas with low radon levels are not at risk.
Radon levels rely on the atmospheric condition, home structure, soil composition, among other variants.
MYTH #6: Radon test results are the same in one area.
Some people think that if their neighbor’s radon level is high, then it would have the same reading in their house, as well.
Several research and studies showed that even if your house is built on the same soil as your neighbor’s, you will still have different radon levels.
The way you built your house affects the soil compositions and the ground’s absorbent qualities underneath.
Radon Health Effects
Radon is a radioactive gas with no color, smell, or taste, but it is part of the air we breathe.
How we ventilate and heat our dwellings is one way of letting the gas enter our homes.
So, what does radon do to you?
There are no concrete radon poisoning symptoms, but extended exposure to this gas may lead to lung cancer.
The only way for us to know the radon level in our house is through testing. You can use short- or long-term testing kits readily available from hardware stores or online.
You can also try using Airthings Wave. It’s a smart radon gas detector that allows you to monitor its level by downloading an app on your smartphone.
If you get elevated radon readings in your home, there are several ways to reduce its level based on how high it is in the first place and your home’s design.