Many people tell me that they never have heard about radon until recently. “No one talked about this years ago,” they say. “My real estate agent never told me that it might be a problem when I purchased my house!” So where did radon come from? Why is it all of the sudden a problem?
The answer: Radon has always been here.
It has been a part of our planet since before mankind. It comes from the decay of Uranium. Yes, Uranium! That stuff they make atomic weapons with. The stuff that people jokingly say causes fish to grow a third eye! Because uranium is radioactive, it decays become thorium, protactinium, radium, radon, polonium, bismuth and after several decays it becomes lead.
URANIUM DECAY CHAIN- U 238 > TH234 > Pa234 > U234 > TH230 > Ra226 > Rn222 > Po218 > Pb214 > Bi214 > Po214 > Pb210 > Bi210 > Po210 > Pb206
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from uranium in the earth. There are trace amounts of uranium in the soil all over the globe. Some areas have higher concentrations than others, therefore some areas have a higher chance of having a radon problem than others. But it can be a problem in homes, schools and buildings anywhere.
If it has always been here, why is it suddenly a problem?
Radon hasn’t suddenly become a problem. It has always caused lung cancer to people who are exposed to high concentrations of it. Back in the late 1400’s miners would develop a disease that they termed “mountain sickness.” Later in the 1800’s it was determined that this disease in miners was actually lung cancer. In the early 1900’s scientists discovered the existence of radon gas. Later in the 1980’s it was realized that radon is not only a problem in mines but also in homes. Since the 1980’s people have been testing for radon and fixing the problem using radon mitigation systems. In recent years, with new energy efficiency techniques, our homes are becoming more air-tight which can create a greater potential for the gas to be drawn in and concentrated. So I guess you can say that radon has suddenly become a “bigger” problem.
How does it enter homes and buildings?
We know radon comes from the earth. The majority of homes in the United States are built in direct contact with the ground. Radon seeps into these homes through openings and pores in the foundation. Some common radon entry points are: foundation cracks, slab cracks, cold & expansion joints, sump pump basins, openings around plumbing pipes, dirt/gravel crawlspaces and the pores of the concrete itself. Homes tend to have a stack effect. A stack effect is the natural rise of air in the home that causes suction on the perimeter walls, windows, doors and floors. This suction can draw radon in from the soil. Radon is heavier than air so it tends to be in greater concentrations in lower portions of a home or building.
How you know if radon is entering your home or building:
Test for radon using a radon test kit or hire a radon measurement professional. Radon test kits can be short-term or long-term. There are several types from several certified measurement laboratories across the United States. Do-it-yourself radon test kits are inexpensive and accurate as long as they are placed correctly and returned to the lab in a timely fashion. There are also thousands of radon measurement providers across the country who offer professional radon tests using electronic radon monitors. These professionals have to pass a radon proficiency program and become certified to operate their devices. Electronic radon measurement devices measure radon levels by the hour for a typical time frame of 48 hours. The device provides radon data to show fluctuations over time and gives an overall average of radon concentrations in the home. Typically, a DIY radon test kit works great for a homeowner who wants to check their home for their own health because they are affordable and simple. Electronic radon measurement devices are most often used in real estate transactions because time is of the essence and results can be provided sooner.
How much radon is too much?
No level of radon gas is safe. The EPA has established the number 4 pCi/L as the action level to fix radon gas levels in homes, buildings and schools. They say to reduce levels greater than 4 and get them as low as reasonably achievable. The World Health Organization has designated the level of 2.7 pCi/L as their action level. Most people begin to get concerned about radon when the levels are greater than 2 pCi/L. If you have tested for radon and it was under 4 pCi/L, remember that those levels can fluctuate throughout the year. Make sure to test during different seasons to get an accurate idea if radon is a problem in your home. Radon is a radioactive gas and is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Every person and every set of lungs are different. There may be genetic factors that make people more susceptible to getting lung cancer from radon than other people. The simple fact is that it is dangerous and the higher amounts you are exposed to, your danger increases. It is too easy to check for radon and to fix it for it to be ignored.
How do we prevent exposure?
We can reduce exposure to radon gas by installing a radon mitigation system. These systems are not a radon clean-up device. These systems are a permanently installed radon prevention system. They are installed in the home and create constant ventilation in the soil under the foundation. The radon gas is captured by the suction of the radon system and carried through a series of pipes. A specialty fan exhausts it to a safe elevation above the eaves of the home. People ask, “what happens to the radon when it vents out the system?” The gas quickly dilutes into the atmosphere to negligible levels. Remember, it is coming up through the grass and ground all around us but the problem is that it gathers in larger quantities when it gets trapped in our homes.
Conclusion: Where does radon come from?
Now we can see that radon is not something new. I has always been a part of our planet. Radon comes from uranium in the soil. The problem has just been brought more to our attention over the last 30+ years because we have discovered that radon can enter our homes. To prevent exposure to this cancer causing gas, remember:
- Radon can be a problem anywhere in the United States.
- You can check it in your own home with radon test kits.
- If you are buying a house, have your home inspector test for it.
- If you’ve tested for radon before, it’s a good idea to check it during opposite seasons.
- Don’t believe you are safe just because your neighbor measured low.
- Radon mitigation systems are proven to reduce levels in homes and buildings.
- Educate your friends and family about this deadly gas.