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What is Radon and What Makes It So Dangerous?

written by: ciel s cantoria•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/18/2010

To understand what radon is & what makes it dangerous,we should focus on its natural source element, uranium. The increasing number of unexplained lung cancer-deaths among people who lived healthy lifestyles, led medical researchers to this toxic emission called radon; but where does radon come from

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    What is Radon and Where does Radon Gas Come From?

    120px-Radon test kit 

    Radon is a radioactive element that stays gaseous under normal conditions. It comes from the decay or normal breakdown of uranium traces present in the soil. Since it is gaseous in form, radon moves up from the ground and enter your home through the cracks present in the foundation.

    What makes radon so dangerous is that ---a household's water supply may also be contaminated through the same process. Since deep wells are located far below the ground, naturally occurring radon from the soil seeps in to the water supply. These unseen occurrences contaminate the air inside homes aside from the water supply. Radon air enters your home through faucets, showers and other water fixtures.

    Since radon is radioactive, it increases one’s chance of forming cancer. According to scientific experts, an amount below 4 picocuries of radon per Liter (pCi/L) in an environment is considered tolerable. If the concentration reaches 4pCi/L or more it is considered a health risk as it exposes you and your family to radio active materials that lead to lung cancer. Accordingly, it was established that several lung cancer deaths had direct relations to indoor radon exposure.

    It is said that smokers living in homes with high concentrations of radon has higher chances of getting lung cancer than that of a non-smoker. In fact, the prevalence of asthma for the past 20 years, affecting all age groups has continued to baffle the medical community. Despite, advanced developments in medical treatments, statistics reveal that asthma as a cause of death has doubled, averaging a rate of 5,000 deaths per year.

    Indoor air pollution due to the presence of second hand smoke and other elements such as dust mites and molds are the known as asthma triggers. It has long been suspected that certain interaction in the environment contribute in increasing the likelihood of asthma being developed in all ages, specifically children under age 5 who represent the greater part of the statistics.

    Hence, in its public information campaign the EPA is enjoining every home and every school in every community to test their building structures for radon. Every home is at risk from radon exposure since radium is a natural element of the soil.

    EPA Recommendation - Test your Home for Radon

    EPA recommends that every home should be tested for radon regardless of geographic location or zone designation in the EPA Map of Radon Zones. The map is only a supplemental data to provide the public sufficient information about radon.

    You can either hire a professional to test your home for radon or use a do-it-yourself- home testing kit, which uses charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors and other devices that react to the presence of radon substance. These detectors will then be sent to a laboratory for test analysis and results.

    Home testing professionals employ a more active form of testing device said to be more accurate and reliable. The Active Radon test device can indicate the actual amount of radon concentration that pervades in your home but requires the use of electrical power in order to monitor the presence of radon gas in real time.

    These testing devices are placed in the most frequented part of the house except the bathroom, hallway, kitchen, or laundry room and at a certain spot at least 20 inches above the floor where it will not be affected by drafts or humidity. Windows should be kept closed for 12 hours before testing to achieve results that are more accurate. It is best not to test if there is high humidity level or if there is bad weather. This can lead to inaccurate results because the device will have a higher chance of being moved.

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    The accumulation of high levels of carcinogenic gas right in our own homes is quite dangerous and that EPA believes every home is affected. Hence, radon testing is necessary to determine the levels of radon contamination. If test results show that radon contamination is high, a "Radon Reduction System" should be installed by a certified and accredited radon reduction professional. The use of treatment systems can draw radon gas away from a particular home or building. Find out the details from this article.
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    What to do if your House has High Levels of Radon

    If testing proves that your home has high amounts of radon, the EPA recommends the installation of a radon reduction system in your home. It would be best to refer to EPA's "Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction". to ensure proper and effective installation of the reduction system.

    Take note that your radon service provider should have a professional proficiency or certification credential to make sure that they have sufficient knowledge about radon and that their methodology is in accordance with the industry standards. You can verify your provider's accreditations or proficiency with the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB).

    There are several methods of radon reduction and the most appropriate system depends on the way your house is designed or structurally built. The most common radon reduction system in use is known as "Soil Suction" process wherein suction pipes will be installed in the soil beneath your house to extract and redirect the radon concentrations away from your home.

    You can also consider a cheaper method, which is by way of sealing the cracks in the walls to help reduce the entry and accumulation of radon in the house. Another system suggested, the "Heat Recovery Ventilation", is considered as the most expensive since you have to keep it running all the time. It cools or heats the incoming air to keep the area ventilated which can prevent radon gas from accumulating in a particular area.

    Radon Content in Water Supply

    Radon content in your water can also be a source of radon that pervades your indoor air. Running household water as in showers and kitchen faucets also emits radon if your water supply is contaminated. Although contamination is more likely for water supply that comes from a private well or if water is derived from a public water supply that draws from ground water.

    Suggested methods in reducing radon in your water supply can either be "Point-of-entry treatments" or by "Point-of-use treatments". "Point-of-entry treatments" will basically deal with radon from ground point before it enters your house via the water system while the "Point-of-use treatments" will make use of filtration attachments to the faucets or water fixture.

    “Point-of-use treatment" is believed to be less effective since the capacity of the devices to reduce radon is considered as relevantly small if compared to reduction of radon from the ground source.

    There are no average radon readings or concentrations per city or per location. This is because radon exists in different levels on different soils. According to the EPA, your house may be geographically located in a low-level zone but it is possible that the great concentration of radon will be right beneath your home. Hence, if you're about to buy a home, have it tested for radon before finalizing the sale.