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What is Radon Gas

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What is Radon Gas

By EnviroVent Feb 02, 2021

Radon is a colourless, odourless radioactive gas which is formed by the radioactive decay of the small amounts of uranium that occur naturally in all rocks and soils.

Radioactivity is generated by unstable elements, such as naturally occurring uranium, thorium, and radon.  As these elements break down, they release energy and form new elements.  In some cases, these new elements may also be unstable, so the process is repeated until a stable element is formed. The energy emitted off is called radiation and can be alpha or beta particles or gamma rays. Over short distances, such as those found within the body, Alpha particles are more harmful than beta particles or gamma rays. This is because alpha particles contain more energy and are absorbed over a smaller area.

Exposure to this type of radiation is a risk to health - radiation is a form of energy and can cause damage in living tissues through a process called “Ionisation”.  This can cause mutations in cells which increase the risk of cancer.

Key Facts about Radon Gas

  1. It is invisible and has no smell or taste.
  2. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
  3. Some areas of the country have higher levels of naturally occurring radon than others.
  4. Radon can be found in water supplies.
  5. It is possible to test for Radon with a simple detector in your home.
  6. Good ventilation can prevent the build up of Radon and keep it at safe levels.

Why is Radon Dangerous?

Radon gas is invisible and has no smell.  It can only be measured by using a specific detector which many homes in at-risk areas will have to monitor levels. 

While the other radioactive chemicals mentioned above are also dangerous, radon is a greater risk to people because under normal conditions it is a gas and can be inhaled meaning that the radiation is then trapped inside the body.

Radon accounts for half of radiation we are exposed to daily, (the other half coming from a mix of sources).  At normal levels, this radiation is harmless, but exposure to a radiation source like radon above safe levels is dangerous and can cause serious health problems.   The level of exposure to radon varies depending on where you are in the country with some areas such as Devon and Cornwall having much higher levels because of their local geology.

The video shown below from PropertECO gives a quick overview of the important facts that all homeowners, landlords and employers should be aware of.

The amount of Radon gas found can vary from hour to hour in homes and as such, the concentration is usually measured as an average over at least 3 months, to ensure that it is within acceptable levels.

Where does Radon Come From?

All soil and rocks naturally contain small amounts of uranium, however in areas where there are higher concentrations of granite and other igneous rocks, there is more naturally occurring uranium and as a result, an increased level of radon gas is produced through radioactive decay.

We are all exposed to radiation from natural and man-made sources. Just 20 Bq/m3 (the average radon level in UK homes) gives us half our exposure to radiation from all sources. Higher radon levels give higher exposures: that is why it is important to find out the levels in your home and in your school or workplace.

For most people, the greatest exposure to radon occurs in the home. The levels of radon in a home depend on:

  • The amount of uranium in the underlying rocks and soils
  • The routes available for the passage of radon from the soil into the home
  • The rate of exchange between indoor and outdoor air

Radon enters the home through cracks in the floor and other gaps around pipes or where the floor meets the walls so is dependent on the construction of the property.  The concentration or build-up of Radon inside the home is dependent on how air-tight the property is and how well it is ventilated.  The level of Radon can vary throughout the building with higher levels found in basements and cellars or downstairs rooms which are at ground level.

Is Radon Gas Useful?

Historically, Radon gas was used in health spas for presumed medical benefits, although in modern times, the chemical is used to initiate some chemical reactions and for different industrial processes.

Radon mitigation is any process used to reduce radon gas concentrations in the breathing zones of occupied buildings, or radon from water supplies. Radon is a significant contributor to environmental radioactivity.

What are the Health Risks of Radon gas?

Due to the nature of Radon, it is sometimes described as an invisible killer, like carbon monoxide.

High levels of radiation are dangerous to health in several ways.  Radon Gas creates radioactive dust in the air which can become trapped in our airways and will emit radiation – specifically highly ionising alpha particles which damages lung tissue and increases the risk of lung cancer.

According to EPA estimates in the USA, Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.

The primary routes of potential human exposure to radon are inhalation and ingestion. Radon in the ground, groundwater, or building materials enters working and living spaces and disintegrates into its decay products. Although high concentrations of radon in groundwater may contribute to radon exposure through ingestion, the inhalation of radon released from water is usually more important.

People are most at risk of exposure to Radon in confined air spaces such as in underground mines and poorly ventilated buildings.

What is a safe level of Radon gas?

Radiation is measured in units called becquerels, and these are calculated per cubic metre. In most cases, below 100 Bq/m³ radiation is considered low risk.  The average across the UK is 20Bq/m³.

Above 100 Bq/m³, the health risk begins to increase.   The safe limit for radon in a home is 200Bq/m³.

The level of radon can be measured simply by placing a radon testing device in your home for at least 7 days to ensure an accurate reading is gathered – longer if possible.

In areas which are at higher risk of radon, it is recommended that you have a meter placed in the property.  Public Health England provide an interactive map where you can determine what the levels are in your area.

After testing, if you find levels are within safe limits, there is only a low risk, however if you find that levels are dangerous, then you need to take action to lower those levels to within the safe limits.

How to Reduce Radon Gas

Good ventilation in a property helps to prevent the build-up of Radon.

When air is trapped inside a building, the concentration of Radon in that air gradually increases.  With a Positive Input Ventilation System (PIV), air is drawn into the property from outside, filtered to remove impurities and then passed through the building.  This gentle flow of air prevents a build-up of Radon and helps to reduce condensation which can lead to other health risks from damp and mould.

Speak to one of our local specialists to find out whether your property is at risk from Radon and how we can help to improve your air quality.

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