Radon gas hazards in buildings: What are the health effects of radon, how should radon levels be measured, and what are the best steps to correct unsafe indoor radon gas levels in buildings..
This article includes a review of the impact of radon gas contamination levels in air or water on real estate sales and property values. We include a table of risks comparing radon to other health and safety hazards and we provide links to eight detailed articles that will accurately and fully inform you about radon gas, the risks, and the remedies.
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Radon is a colorless, odorless gas released from the breakdown of uranium and radium, which is found in rocks and soil and sometimes in water. The gas enters the house primarily through cracks and gaps in the foundation, floor drains, and sumps, and concentrations build up indoors.
Radon can also enter the home through well water and be released during showering or other uses. In rare cases, it is found in masonry building materials. Radon is thought to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking (Table 7-6).
Radon is drawn into buildings by the stack effect and by depressurization from mechanical equipment. During warm weather when the stack effect is reduced and buildings are often well-ventilated, indoor radon levels are usually one-third or more lower. Also, levels in the basement are typically over twice the level on the first floor.
Radon gas breaks down into short-lived decay products that can be inhaled either unattached or attached to other particles in the air and penetrate deeply into the lungs. According to its 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes, the EPA estimates that radon causes about 20,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the U.S.
This makes radon the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, where an estimated 1 out of 15 homes has elevated levels. The cancer typically occurs 5 to 25 years after exposure, and the risk goes up dramatically if the person is also a smoker (see Table 7-6, Lung Cancer Risk from Radon Exposure, below).
While much less of a problem than airborne radon, radon in water is also a concern. If indoor radon levels are high and the household uses well water, the water should also be tested. In general, every 10,000 pCi/L of radon in household water contributes about 1 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) of radon to indoor air level.
The radon gas is released from the water when it is aerated during showering, washing dishes, or laundering. There also may be an increased risk of stomach cancer from swallowing the water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, ventilating bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms is usually adequate to reduce risks from radon in water.
However, where water levels are high, the radon can be removed by aeration treatment or carbon filtering.
-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.
See RADON ENVIRO-SCARE for a full discussion of the normal cycle of public fear that accompanies the discovery and publicity of various environmental hazards, including radon gas and see ENVIRO-SCARE, the Cycle of Public Fear for our article about consumer environmental safety worry cycles that change over time.
Continue reading at RADON HAZARD in UNDERGROUND HOMES or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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