Radon Essay Research Paper RadonRadon is a

Radon Essay, Research Paper


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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