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Radon - Effects, Testing and Mitigation Systems

by Guest on Jun 16, 2021

Several things in the atmosphere can pose a threat to the health of humans. This is especially when they are not aware that the threat is readily around them. One of these kinds of threats that may pervade the atmosphere depending on where you live is radon.

This is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gaseous chemical that is naturally occurring. It is a radioactive element that can cause lung cancer if you are exposed to it especially for a long time. If you live in a geological area where it is present, it can enter into your building through holes and cracks in the foundation.

When it does, it can then get trapped indoors and this carries with it a risk of lung cancer. It is estimated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency that up to 21,000 people die from this annually. It is also the second major cause of the disease after smoking. You can see more on this here https://www.webmd.com/lung-cancer/radon-health-effects.

Since it is colorless and odorless, the only way to know if your building is exposed is to test for its presence. If it is present, that is, if the level is 4.0 pCi/L or higher, then a mitigation process needs to be carried out.

Where Does Radon Come From

Radon is a radioactive element denoted by Rn on the chemical table for elements. Its atomic number is 86. This gas occurs naturally as it is produced when radioactive substances like uranium and thorium slowly decay. When these radioactive substances decay, they form into various short-lived substances and radon is one of these. 

Radium is radon’s most stable isotope and this comes from burning coals and fuels. It has a half-life of just 3.8 days. Despite this, it is expected that it would be around for many years. This is due to its association with thorium and uranium which have half-life akin to more than a billion years.

When radon decays, it produces various short-lived nuclides and they end as stable isotopes of lead. These are known as radon daughters. Radon is typically gaseous under standard conditions therefore it may be easily inhaled. Radon daughters on the other hand are solids and they get attached to surfaces.

This gaseous chemical is the biggest cause of background radiation for a lot of people. It is found in the soil, in rocks and may also be found in water. Its level of exposure varies from one geological location to another.

What Are Its Health Effects?

As humans breathe in these particles, they are deposited on cells that line the airways. This can lead to lung cancer or cause DNA damage. The greatest risk of this gas is when it is in an enclosed place.

When outdoors, it can get easily diluted to pretty low concentrations and this is normally not an issue. On average, it is between 5Bq/m3 to 15Bq/m3. Indoors, concentrations are higher as it is in an enclosed place with minimal ventilation.

A much higher level is found in caves, facilities for water treatment and in mines. In places like residential homes and commercial areas like offices and schools, radon levels can reach up to 10,000 Bq/m3. Given that it is odorless and colorless, occupants of these places could be living with it unknowingly.

Radon is the foremost cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. People who smoke have a higher risk of contracting the disease. However, it is not yet certain how exposures at low levels affect a person’s health.

Mitigating Radon Exposure Levels

The radon levels in a building can be controlled with different proven as well as cost-effective mitigation techniques. Every mitigation technique is oftentimes particular to the design of the structure. You may click here to learn more about this.

Mitigation is a system or process that is used to reduce the concentration of the substance within a building. Its goal is to reduce the radon level in a building to a reasonable level recommended by the EPA. This is typically 4 pCi/L. A good mitigation system may lower the year-round radon levels to under 2pCi/L.

Usually, the type of foundation a building has is what determines the mitigation technique that will be used on the building. Prior to mitigation, you must test to see if radon is present on the premises.

How to Detect The Presence of Radon

Because it cannot be smelled or seen, the only way to determine if it is in a place is via a test. The EPA recommends that tests be made on homes that are below a building’s third floor. They also have a guide called “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon”. This Guide explains a simple way to test for its presence.

It is a good thing that when moving into a new home or space, you test for its presence. This is especially if the area is prone to the gas.

Although it is a straightforward test, it is imperative that you carefully follow the instructions and checklist. This is important to get an accurate result. Not following the instructions may lead to an inaccurate result and you will have to start the test all over.

You must also not interfere with the test nor the device that is used. There are environmental conditions that must be satisfied for the test to be accurate. These include keeping windows as well as doors closed except for times when you have to go in or out.

No fans or any machine that brings in air from outside may be used. The only fans that may be used are those that are used for radon reduction. Even this can only operate for a short stretch per time during the test. Tampering with this condition will yield inaccurate results and this is illegal in some U.S States.

Testing for Radon

Before carrying out the test, you should notify the occupants of the building in writing giving them instructions. A copy of the EPA guide may also go along with that. It helps to explain what it is about and to give directions.

The test is typically for a minimum of 48 hours but it may require more time depending on various factors. One of these is the type of testing kit used. Some test kits may require up to 4 to 7 days. 12 hours before the test begins, closed-house conditions must be maintained and this should continue till the end of the test. This means shutting the windows and doors.

You may choose to carry out the test by yourself following the EPA’s guide or have a qualified tester do so. If doing it yourself, you need to buy a test kit online or from a hardware store. You have to leave the kit in the building for the specified days. After the number of days is up, you should send it to a lab and await feedback.

If the lab or a qualified tester cannot confirm the correctness of the test, the test must be carried out again. Radon present in water supply does not carry as much risk but you can request your water to be tested.

If there is a high level of the substance, measures should be taken to remove it before it is supplied to your home. It is recommended that retesting should be done every two years even when a mitigation system is in place.

Radon Mitigation Systems

After the test is done and it is discovered, then mitigation needs to be done. A mitigation expert will determine the type of system to use. This is often by visually inspecting the property. If they cannot determine which to use based on this visual examination, a diagnostic test may be carried out.

Mitigation is usually accomplished by proper ventilation. A common system uses a fan to pull air continuously from the soil while exhausting it outdoors via a pipe. The pipe may run inside the home or outside but it must expel the air outside away from opening and windows.

Additionally, any cracks or openings in a foundation must be sealed. This helps to curb the flow of the substance and makes the mitigation system efficient.

In buildings that are designed with a combination of slab-on-grade and basement, more than one mitigation system may be used. When removing it from water, an aeration system or activated charcoal can be used.

Conclusion

The air around you is crucial to your health and wellbeing. It must be clean. When moving into a new building or neighborhood, it is recommended that you check if it is exposed to radon. Radon is a silent killer as it can be in the atmosphere but you won’t know.

If you already live somewhere but you suspect that your home is exposed to radon, you should also have it tested. If it is, then you need to reach out to mitigation professionals to help eliminate or reduce your exposure. You should also consult with your doctor to carry out checks and see if you require any treatment.

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