Radon is a radioactive gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in your home. It was discovered by English physicist Ernest Rutherford in 1899 and can only be detected using specialist equipment.
The radioactive elements formed by the decay of radon can be inhaled and enter our lungs. Inside the lungs, these elements continue to decay and emit radiation, most importantly alpha particles. These are absorbed by the nearby lung tissues and cause localised damage. This damage can lead to lung cancer. The radon level in the air we breathe outside is very low but can be higher inside buildings.
Believe it or not, Radon is a naturally occurring gas.
Small amounts of uranium are found in most rocks and soils, as the uranium decays it produces radium which in turn as it decays, produces a new radioactive element - Radon.
As the radioactive gas decays it produces another radioactive element called Radon progeny and this is where the problem arises.
The Radon progeny behave like solids and can attach themselves to dust particles in the air. We are all exposed to radiation from natural and man-made sources all the time.
It is impossible to detect radon by sight, smell or taste. It has to be measured by detectors usually over a 3 month period.
These are then analysed to determine if the level exceeds the UK Action Level for Radon in homes recommend by the Health Protection Agency on Radiation Protection and Measurements.
Radon gas is measured in Becquerel’s per cubic metre and, according to UKradon (the UK’s reference site on radon from the Health Protection Agency), the UK Action Level for Radon in Homes is at or above 200Bq m-3.
You can see the level of Radon in your area by using the Public Health England's interactive map. You can also order a Radon detector, like a carbon monoxide detector they can be placed on a shelf but they can be damaged by heat or submersion in water and should not be opened.
High levels of radiation are dangerous, as radioactive particles in the air can become trapped in our airways, and continue to emit radiation, including dangerous alpha particles. The damage this causes to tissues increases the risk of lung cancer, with this risk going up as levels of radon and exposure times rise.
Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to EPA estimates. Overall, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. 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.
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