Radon is a colourless, odourless, and tasteless gas that is formed by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in soil, rock, and water. It can seep into buildings through cracks and openings in the foundation and build up to dangerous levels over time.
Radon poisoning occurs when a person inhales high levels of radon gas for extended periods. When radon is breathed in, it can damage the lungs and potentially cause lung cancer.
Sources of Radon
It’s essential to be aware of the risks of radon poisoning, especially if you live in an area known to have high levels of radon or if you spend a lot of time in buildings where radon is likely to be present.
Some common sources of radon include:
- Rocks and soil: After being released from bedrock material, radon passes through the soil, diluting in the air before entering buildings. Granites, migmatites, some clays and tills are particularly rich in uranium and radium, which decay into radon. Radon exhalation from the ground beneath buildings is the main source of radon in indoor air.
- Water: Radon can dissolve and accumulate in groundwater sources, such as water pumps or drilled wells in uranium-rich geological areas. Radon in water can be released into the air during routine water use, such as showering or laundry.
- Natural gas: Radon can be present in natural gas, which can then be released into the air when the gas is burned. This can be a concern in homes that use natural gas for heating or cooking.
The risk of radon poisoning can vary depending on the location of the building and the specific sources of radon. In general, homes and buildings in areas with high levels of uranium in the soil or rock are more likely to have high levels of radon. Additionally, older homes and buildings are more likely to have higher radon levels due to factors such as poor ventilation and foundation cracks.
Symptoms of Radon Poisoning
The most common symptom of radon poisoning is lung cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking, and it’s estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. The risk of lung cancer from radon exposure is higher for smokers, as the combination of smoking and radon exposure can greatly increase the risk of lung cancer.
Other symptoms of radon poisoning can include:
- Persistent coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Respiratory infections such as bronchitis or pneumonia
Prevention of Radon Poisoning
There are steps you can take to reduce your exposure and lower your risk of developing symptoms or health problems related to radon poisoning. Here are some prevention tips to keep in mind:
- Test your building or home for radon: The first step in preventing radon poisoning is to have your home tested for radon. A certified radon testing professional can conduct a test to determine the radon levels in your home and recommend appropriate steps for mitigation if necessary. Testing is essential if you live in an area with high levels of radon or if you have reason to believe that your home may be at risk.
- Increase ventilation: Good ventilation can help to reduce radon levels in your home by allowing fresh air to circulate and helping to dilute any radon that may be present. You can increase ventilation by opening windows and doors, using exhaust fans in bathrooms and kitchens, and installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) or energy recovery ventilator (ERV) system.
- Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure. Smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, and combining smoking and radon exposure can greatly increase the risk of developing the disease.
- Contact qualified contractor: Seal cracks in floors and walls with plaster, caulk, or other materials designed for this purpose. Contact a qualified contractor in your area for information on how to fix radon problems yourself.