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What is Radon Gas?
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You have heard about it, now let's learn about it!
Radon is an invisible, colorless, odorless gas that is heavier than air. Radon is a product of the radioactive decay of uranium, naturally found distributed all over the world in a variety of soils and rocks such as granite, limestone and shale. The entire earth's surface contains uranium in varying amounts, so no matter where you live or build, you will always be faced with the possibility that radon gas is formed in the earth beneath your building, and that the gas can enter your building through the basement areas. Radon is known to be present in well water, and can enter homes through faucets, shower-heads, toilets, and appliances such as clothes-washers and dishwashers. You possibly, do live in an area where there is the potential for radon gas. There is, unfortunately, no way of assessing this without sampling the air in your home.
There are many environmental and occupant related factors that affect radon exposure, such as the duration and pattern of occupancy, how long and often windows are open, and how and where radon enters the building when occupied. It has not been possible to tell in advance what levels to expect in any individual house; some houses will have a low average level and vice-versa. The level of radon in buildings depends on the strength of the radon source and ease of transport into the house. Radon readily dissolves in water so a wet basement might also be a radioactive one. Once in your building, radon gas will continue to break down to small radioactive particles which can quite easily attach to dust and smoke particles. Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. Radon can increase in energy efficient homes if outside air exchange is limited. Radon levels can vary between rooms and levels within a home. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time. Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. The amount of risk depends on the cumulative exposure which is a combination of the concentration of the radon, duration of exposure and the length of time you are exposed. Living patterns that influence the risk are smoking in the house, time spent in the house, occupancy time in the lowest floors of the house, and duration of residency.
Radon and radon daughter products can pose a health hazard if present in high concentrations. The risk varies with the amount of time spent inside, especially in basements with elevated radon gas concentrations and whether the occupants smoke or are exposed to smoke. It is also suggested that children, with their higher metabolic rates and smaller lung volume, are more susceptible to the risk posed by radon than are adults. When radon gas breaks down to the smaller solid radioactive particles, these particles can attach to dust particles including smoke particles such as from tobacco smoke. If you inhale those tiny dust particles, your lungs can trap them, and once trapped in your lungs, those radioactive particles will continue to release radioactive energy. The damage can result in a cancer. Radon has been linked to lung cancer (Health Canada, 2007). In Canada, a federal government guideline allows 33% as much radon as the U.S. considers acceptable. In the US the acceptable levels established by the United States Protection Agency (USEPA) is 4 pCi/L = 150 becquerals per cubic metres (Bq/m3). The USEPA concentration is based on what is the lowest practical level radon in the homes can be reduced to, if "zero" risk is the desired tolerance. Health and Welfare Canada radon guideline, recommends that remedial measures be taken when the annual average concentration in the living area of a house exceeds 5.4 pCi/L = 200 Bq/m3 of air. The province of Nova Scotia uses the Health Canada radon guidelines. The Health Canada radon guidelines are based on the level at which Health Canada would not like to see people exposed.
Because you cannot see, smell, feel or taste it, the only means of detecting its presence is by scientific means. An expert in radon detection should be consulted to perform this procedure. As a consequence each home owner has to make an individual decision whether to test or not. If you are wondering whether to test or not, it is recommended that you test (Health Canada, 2007).
Once this decision to test has been made, there are several ways to proceed. Steps involved in dealing with radon include short-term testing, follow-up long-term testing, mitigation or remedial action, if required. Special rates for combined radon tests, short term tests from 4 days to 7 days; long term monitoring tests technically can be 30 days to a year, however, in Canada we are using 91 days as the start of the long term test. Call for a price.