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Essay/Term paper: Radon

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Society Term Papers

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Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive element that can be found in
soil, underground water, and outdoor air. Some of the properties of this gas
include being odorless, tasteless, and colorless. The concentrations vary
throughout the country depending on the types of rocks that are found in the
soil. Exposure over prolonged periods of time to radon decay products has been
associated with an increased risk of lung cancer.(3) The EPA describes an
elevated concentration as being at or above their suggested guidelines of 4pCi/l
(pico Curies per liter, used as a radiation unit of measure for radon).
Exposures below this level may create a risk of lung cancer, farther reductions
to lower levels may be too difficult or even impossible to achieve.(4)

Radon enters buildings through: exposed soil in crawl spaces, through
cracks, openings in floors, and through below grade walls and floors. This is
the primary source of elevated radon levels in buildings.(5) Outdoor air
contains radon, but it is in extremely low concentrations therefore it is not a
health hazard. Some wells contain water that has radon dissolved in it. This
can be a hazard if the water is agitated or heated, allowing the gas to escape
and elevate the levels that are in the building.(6)

Health Risk

The Surgeon General's office reports that indoor radon gas is a national
health problem. This gas causes thousands of deaths every year.(7) These
deaths are a result of lung cancer, which is caused by the radioactive particles
that make up the gas.(8) The likelihood of getting lung cancer from radon
depends on: the concentration that you are exposed to, the amount of time that
you are exposed, and whether you smoke or not. The radioactive particles are
inhaled when we breathe, and become trapped in the lungs. Once in the lungs
they release small amounts of energy that can damage the tissue of the lungs
which in turn can cause cancer.(9)

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, with smoking being
number one according to the Surgeon Generals office.(10) Smoking greatly
increases the risk of getting lung cancer. Non smokers are allot less likely to
get lung cancer from radon than smokers.(11) Radon is a big problem because a
majority of the population spends most of its time indoors. This increases the
amount of time that they are exposed, and the likelihood that they will get lung

Where Radon Originates

Radon is created by the radioactive decay of uranium found in rocks,
soil, and water. Uranium and its by products of decay, namely radon are
abundant and are constantly being generated.(13) Radon is capable of easily
traveling through rocks and soil.(14) The gas is also found dissolved in water,
due to decay in the soil or rock below.(15)

Radon in Water

The risk from radon in water is much lower than the risk from radon in
air. This is because the water must be heated or agitated to release the gas.
This can happen in a shower, boiling water on a stove, or by using a washing
machine. Most public water supplies don't present a radon risk, this is because
the water is aerated at the treatment site and the gas escapes into the
atmosphere. Most water that contains hazardous amounts of radon comes from
wells. Wells should be tested for radon if the building that they are supplying
contains hazardous amounts in the air. The testing procedures for water are
different from those used on air.(16)

Water containing radon can usually be treated. The most effective
treatment is to remove radon from the water before it enters the home, this is
called point of entry treatment. Water can also be treated at the tap, this is
known as point of use treatment. However this treatment is much less effective
at removing the risk.(17)

Radon Entry

Radon travels through the ground and into the air, allowing the gas to
easily enter buildings and homes. There are many ways that the gas can enter a
building. Cracks in concrete slabs allow the gas to enter through the floor.
The gas also enters through pores and cracks that are found in concrete
foundations. Faulty wall to floor joints also allow entry. Exposed soil
creates more radon as uranium decays within the soil. A weeping drain tile that
is drained to an open sump will cause radon to enter the home more easily.
Loose pipe fittings will allow enough of an opening to let radon gas enter.
Open tops of block walls let the gas move from the foundation and release in an
open area. Also certain building materials, such as rock used in interior
construction of fireplaces, will release the gas. Domestic use of well water
allows the gas to enter through showers and through agitation processes.


The EPA reports that radon has been found in homes all across the United
States.(18) Testing is the essential key to knowing whether a home is at risk
from radon.(19) To test for radon special equipment must be used.(20) There
are a number of different devices for testing for radon on the market today.
Some devices are known as passive devices, and require no power to operate.
They consist of charcoal canisters, alpha track devices and charcoal liquid
scintillation. All of these devices are relatively simple, and can be purchased
at hardware stores. These devices are exposed to air in the building for a
specified length of time and then sent out to a processing laboratory for
analysis.(21) Active devices are test equipment that requires power to operate.
These devices continuously monitor for radon. They do this by recording the
amount of radon that is decaying in the building's air. This type of testing is
more costly because it requires a professional, as well as expensive
equipment.(22) Testing can either be long term or short term. Long term tests
run for more than ninety days. Alpha track devices are most commonly used for
this type of test. The most common short term tests are charcoal canisters and
continuous monitors.(23)

Reducing Radon Levels

There are a number of methods that can be used to reduce the amounts of
radon that enter a building. Soil suction is one such method, it draws the
radon from below the building and vents it to the atmosphere, where it is
quickly diluted. Another method is active subslab suction, this is the most
common method. It uses suction pipes that are inserted through the floor slab
into the soil beneath it. These pipes use a fan to pull the gas out from below
the house and up into the atmosphere. Another method is known as passive
subslab suction, it is the same as active subslab suction except that it uses
air currents in place of the fan. Drain tiles can be used to direct water away
from the foundation. Yet another method is sump hole suction, this method is
used in basements that have sump pump. By capping the pump, it can continue to
drain water and serve as a location for a radon suction device. Ventilation is
another popular method of removing the gas. Sometimes just opening the basement
windows is enough other times the use of a fan may be required. Sealing cracks
in the foundation also helps to prevent some gas from entering and it also helps
reduce the loss of heated or cooled air. Another type of ventilation is heat
recovery ventilation, it will increase the air circulation and will use heated
or cooled air that is being exhausted to warm or cool the incoming fresh


In conclusion, radon causes many problems. According to the surgeon
general's office it is the second leading cause of cancer.(25) This is due to
the radioactive particles decaying in the lungs and releasing energy that can
cause tissue destruction that leads to cancer. Radon is found almost everywhere.
So it must be dealt with. Some common ways are to reduce the amounts of the gas
that enter the home are sealing cracks and ventilating the building. Due to the
gas being colorless and odorless special testing equipment was designed to
monitor it. This testing should be done by homeowners and business owners that
are concerned about the safety of inhabitants. Through testing and corrective
measures radon can effectively be dealt with.


1. Radon Reduction in New Construction. Washington: GPO, March, 1993. 2. Home
Buyer's and Sellers Guide to Radon. Washington: GPO, March, 1993. 3. Murphy,
James. "The Colorless, Odorless Killer". TIME: July, 1985: P.72 4. ibid. P.21
5. Consumers Guide to Radon Reduction. Washington: GPO, August, 1992. P.4 6.
ibid. P.5 7. A Guide to Radon. Washington: GPO, September, 1993. P.14 8. ibid.
P.9 9. ibid. P.15 10. ibid. P.3 11. ibid. P.3 12. ibid. P.5 13. ibid. P.6
14. ibid. P.13 15. ibid. P.7 16. ibid. P.2 17. ibid. P.2 18. Murphy, James.
"The Colorless, Odorless Killer". TIME: July, 1985: P.72 19. A Guide to Radon.
Washington: GPO, September, 1993. P.14 20. ibid. P.9 21. ibid. P.19 22. ibid.
P.19 23. ibid. P.6 24. ibid. P.17 25. ibid. P.2


1. A Guide to Radon. Washington: GPO, September, 1993

2. Consumers Guide to Radon Reduction. Washington: GPO, August, 1992.

3. Home Buyer's and Sellers Guide to Radon. Washington: GPO, March, 1993.

4. Murphy, James. "The Colorless, Odorless Killer". TIME: July, 1985

5. Radon Reduction in New Construction. Washington: GPO, March, 1993.


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