Studies show that nearly 1 out of every 15 houses in the US and 6.9 % of houses in Canada have elevated radon levels.
This radioactive gas is fairly common worldwide, with 56 nations already responding to the W.H.O. radon survey.
Many people know that radon causes lung cancer but don’t know its source. If that’s the case for you as well, this article sheds light on everything you need to know about the origin of radon gas, including what it is, where it comes from, how it causes cancer, and other related FAQs.
What Is Radon Gas?
Radon is a radioactive gas produced by the decay of uranium, thorium, or radium in soil, rocks, and underground water. As you can see, all the particles that can create radon are naturally occurring and can be found everywhere in the world, making this gas very common.
Radon doesn't have any particular taste, feel, or smell. You'll need to do a special test to find its concentration in your home or office. Furthermore, radon can also exist outdoors, even if the concentrations aren’t as high as inside a building.
How Does Radon Get Into Our Homes?
Radon can enter buildings in two ways:
By Rising From the Soil
The air pressure inside a building is lower than in the soil, making air and gas move from high pressure to low pressure. In other words, the vacuum in the house sucks the gas from the soil when created, allowing it to enter from small cracks in the foundation. Other places from where radon can get into buildings include hollow block walls, dirt floors, sump pumps opening in floor drains, and openings in pipes, sewers, and other utility connections.
Via Well Water
Houses that use well water are susceptible to radon. This gas can mix in the water and be released into the air while showering or dishwashing.
You may also sometimes end up ingesting radon if you drink water from the tap. However, it's not a big concern in itself.
But again, the implications aren't in your favor - if the drinking water in your home has radon, there's a high probability that the air has it too.
Note: Drinking water with radon can cause stomach cancer in some rare cases, but the risk isn't as much as cancer in the lungs caused by radon gas in the air.
Does Radon Exist in Every Building?
Yes, almost every residential or commercial building has radon gas; however, not all of them have high radon concentrations. While there is no safe quantity for radon, according to the WHO, levels of less than 2.7 PCI /l (100 Bq/m3) can be considered normal. If the radon concentration is higher, you should take action to mitigate your risk.
Why Are Radon Levels Higher Indoors Than Outdoors?
With its massive volume, outdoor air dilutes radon gas down to a concentration that is negligible. Furthermore, with passing time, more and more radon can accumulate inside a building, increasing the danger. When outdoor air is introduced to the indoors, this fresh air will dilute the indoor radon concentration.
What Makes Radon Cause Lung Cancer?
Radon is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer and the biggest cause of the disease in non-smokers.
As we discussed earlier, it is a radioactive gas. This gas releases tiny alpha particles into the air, which can collect in your lungs when inhaled. These particles eventually release tiny bursts of energy, slowly damaging your lung tissue and increasing your risk of developing lung cancer.
Does Radon Cause Other Types of Cancer?
Based on existing evidence, lung cancer is the only disease that can be caused by inhaling radon.
Rarely, radon can cause stomach cancer when ingested. This phenomenon is similar to what happens in the lungs - consumed radon can diffuse into radioactive particles that can stick to, and damage the stomach linings, eventually causing cancer.
Please note that more research is needed on this topic because some studies associating radon and stomach cancer have mixed results.
What Types of Houses Are More Likely to Have the Radon Problem?
Honestly, there is no one common answer to this question.
Generally, homes with slab-on-grade foundations and crawl spaces are more likely to have radon since they have many openings that allow the gas to enter. Furthermore, the risks of radon exposure can be high for people that use their basement as a living space.
But again, the radon levels in the indoor air can depend on many other conditions and variables, like the presence of radioactive materials in the soil, building materials, etc. And remember, even neighboring houses can have very different radon levels.
Hence, it's difficult to generalize, and every homeowner should be wary of radon. Every individual house/unit/dwelling needs to have a test done to determine it's risk level associated with radon.
How Can I Know the Radon Level in My House?
You can use either one of these amazing radon test kits to find the amount of this radioactive substance in your house.
These kits provide you with a hockey puck looking device to be placed in the basement or a room you use often.
Depending on the type of the type of kit you use, you will wait between 2 and 90 days or between 90 days and a year before sending the detector to the lab for analysis.
On the other hand, you can also contact a professional radon technician for radon testing. They will be able to give you more accurate readings faster, but usually at a greater cost.
What Can I Do About the Elevated Radon Levels in My House?
The most common radon-reducing strategy requires the assistance of a radon mitigation specialist. The specialist will install a radon mitigation system consisting of fans, pipe and accessories to vent the radon away from the home, into the outdoor atmosphere.
Depending on the situation, the specialist will need to match the right strategy with the right circumstances. Some of these mitigation strategies include: aeration, GAC, sub-slab suction, sump-hole suction, or block-wall suction.
Radon is produced by the radioactive decay of uranium in the soil and can migrate upwards towards the surface. It can make its way inside your home through cracks, holes, gaps, penetrations, crawlspaces and others.
No matter where you're located in the world, when moving into a new house, you must test for radon regularly to keep your family safe from lung cancer.
Finally, you should contact a radon mitigation specialist if the levels are close to or higher than the recommendations given by your national health authority.