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Radon Exposure: How Danger Lurks in Your Home

Silas is a safety inspector developing mitigation strategies for several industries. Obtained a master of science in safety and MBA

Radon Exposure: Danger Lurks in Our Home

A wealth of data and evidence has determined that radon gas develops into lung cancer. It remains less debatable that radon presents a concern to occupants within a household and those that occupy a building.

Marty (2020) mentions that radon is a radioactive noble gas that occurs naturally in the ground, while uranium goes through a decay process. Since the decay process happens in the earth, radon found in rock and soil can escape, allowing individuals to inhale the dangerous gas. When radon escapes to the outdoors, it dilutes rapidly and does not cause human health problems. However, indoor radon concentrations become a much bigger problem when an individual inhales radon in a more massive dose over time. Inhaling the carcinogen deposits the radioactive particles in the airway lung lining and creates problems.

Radon creates problems for those exposed to a high dose of radioactive gas. According to Stanley et al. (2019), the particles cause damage and alter cellular deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA—a reasonably robust change to DNA results from the odorless, invisible hazard. Repeated exposure causes DNA alterations and allows cancer to develop in the lungs. The change in cells presents an irreversible alteration that drives cancer formation. Therefore, radon exposure creates a hazardous household condition that requires attention.

Over the past five years, the real estate market, state, and local government have established protocols to identify, test, and determine radon levels in homes pending a sale. Radon creates an occupational toxicant that requires detection to reduce the exposure level. People who occupy buildings and homeowners exposed to radon create questions about the population's health and wellbeing. Therefore, attention remains on lowering radon exposure risk to protect a person from harm created by long-term exposure.

Situation That Brought Radon to Newsworthy Status

Radon is a carcinogen that causes cancer while undetectable through smell. States require radon testing to determine whether the level exceeds the established exposure baseline. According to Kalfrin (2019), the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, suggests 15,000 to 22,000 deaths have resulted from lung cancer related to radon exposure. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (2017) indicates that one in 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels and increases people's chance to develop cancer.

The radioactive gas produces fear and uncertainty, although radon mitigation systems exist to reduce the exposure level. Radon has become the second leading cause of lung cancer following smoking (Theobald, n.d.). Radon found in homes elevates to newsworthy status as the housing industry expands across the nation (Friendman, 2020). According to the EPA (2017), 30 percent of Utah homes tested above the acceptable level, and half the country remains exposed to an unacceptable radon level. Figure 1 presents the radon zone map for the United States.

Fig. 1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon Zone Map

Fig. 1. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon Zone Map

The risk remains unacceptable concerning the likelihood and severity of radon exposure. Fortunately, radon exposure is reasonably inexpensive to mitigate with a passive and non-passive system that costs an average of $1,200.00. Test kits cost around $15.00, and homeowners can perform the test. First Alert offers a radon gas kit that provides a safe and straightforward way to test for radon.

The kit should remain at the lowest point of the home for two to four days to collect gas particles. After completing the test, ship the canister to the lab and wait for the results. Next, continuous monitoring systems exist to detect radon levels in the home. For example, SafetySiren Pro4 Series (4th Gen) offers a device that sounds an alarm to alert the homeowner of high radon levels. The device also includes a visual alarm for the hearing impaired. Knowing the radon level in a home presents a sense of wellbeing as the gas causes fatalities and has risen above drunk driving, falls in a home, and house fires. The increase in lung cancer deaths resulting from radon exposure has increased concerns over the past few years.

Exposure Limits

Differences exist concerning the radon exposure baseline. The emphasis becomes necessary for remediation to reduce the human level of exposure. Radon home kits provide a means to determine the level of Radon produced underneath the home.

Changes to reduce the level below 0.2 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) help reduce lung cancer cases. The World Health Organization suggested a radon baseline of 2.7 pCi/L (Radon, n.d.) as an acceptable exposure level. With different radon exposure levels and recommendations, defining a radon acceptable gas level remains inconsistent. Reducing radon exposure and standardizing the baseline remains a topic of discussion within the government and real estate industry.

According to the EPA (2016), the average indoor radon level estimates at approximately 1.3 pCi/L and outdoor level at 0.4 pCi/L. Reduction below 2.0 pCi/L may require a radon reduction system to mitigate the radon danger. Table 1 presents the radon level, risk level, and solution that involves installing a system. The radon system removes the gas from beneath the foundation and exits the contents outside into the atmosphere. Thus, the system reduces the occupant exposure level.

Table 1. Environmental Protection Agency. (2012). A citizen's guide to radon. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-02/documents/2012_a_citizens_guide_to_radon.pdf

Radon LevelExposure Level of 1,000 peopleRisk of Cancer from RadonRecommended Solution

4.0 pCi/L

Fifteen People, Lung Cancer

Four times the risk, Fatal Fall

Fix Home, Radon System

2.0 pCi/L

Seven People, Lung Cancer

Two times the risk, Car Crash

Reduction below 2 pCi/L is difficult

0.4 pCi/L

Two People, Lung Cancer

Average Outdoor Radon Level

Reduction below 2 PCi/L is difficult

How Individuals Are Exposed

Exposure to radon presents problems to the nation, as the hazard is invisible and challenging to detect. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) (n.d.), radon is a colorless and odorless gas that mixes with the air and seeps through basement foundation floors and walls. The gas forms from the breakdown of uranium in the soil.

Radon exposure presents a problem inside of homes, and radon levels discovered within the structure depend upon the rock and soil characteristics in the earth. The worst exposure levels exist in the basement or crawlspace and remain the closest to the earth and soil containing radon. The highest radon level presents itself in the basement of a home because it is closest to the radon's source in the earth. Figure 2 presents an illustration of radon paths into the home.

Fig. 2. Radon Pathways. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) (n.d.). Radon in Homes

Fig. 2. Radon Pathways. Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) (n.d.). Radon in Homes

Toxicology Effects

Radon has toxicological effects that expose the population to a hazard. According to the ACS (n.d.), radon breakdown products into radioactive components known as radon progeny. Radon progeny adheres to dust as humans breathe airborne particles into the lungs. As radon found in the air breaks down, it may damage the body cell DNA. Lab studies suggest radon as a source of lung tumors and an increase in lung cancer. Next, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) mentions that radon cause lung cancer and a carcinogenic to humans. The Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify radon as a known human carcinogenic. According to the EPA (n.d.), studies show a direct correlation linking low radon levels in homes to lung cancer.

Tell Us What You Think About Radon.

Smokers Beware

Smokers present a high risk for cancer, and the process accelerates with the mixture of radon gas. Tersheen et al. (2012) mention that radon causes 10% of lung cancer cases in the United States. The radon decay process delivers the maximum radiation dose to the lung. This process further increases the risk for people who smoke. Tobacco smoke and radioactive particles act together in the carcinogenic pathway. Radon particles and tobacco smoke may increase the chance for lung cancer by amplification of two. To reduce radon-related deaths, quitting smoking provides a prevention method to reduce the lung cancer statistic level. Therefore, eliminating occupant smoking tobacco products reduces the chance that radon will amplify the exposure-outcome.

Fix Your Home Using an Engineering Control

Mitigation solutions to reduce radon require a gas extraction system. Extraction systems transfer radon gas from under the home through a piping system that releases the radon to the home's exterior. An extraction system incorporates a fan to pull radon from below the home and extracts the particles into the atmosphere. Passive systems include the plumbing, without a fan, and allow the radon to pass to the atmosphere. Instead, the radon escapes through natural particles rising to the surface, through the radon plumbing, and into the atmosphere. Figure 3 presents a radon mitigation system that draws the radon gas from below the foundation and exits the harmful particles outside the home.

Fig. 3. Home Guide. (n.d.). How much does radon mitigation cost?

Fig. 3. Home Guide. (n.d.). How much does radon mitigation cost?

Conclusion

Radon represents a high risk and unacceptable harm to the nation's homeowners. Over several years, government and real estate requirements require radon testing to determine whether a structure has an acceptable or unacceptable radon level. While exposure to cancer has become evident in radon studies, mitigation strategies exist to reduce the level of exposure through removal systems. Installing a radon evacuation system removes the radon gas below the house and routes the gas to the outside environment. The process reduces the level of radon gas in the living environment and reduces the chance of cancer. Therefore, eliminating radon from lingering within the home remains a reasonable means to reduce the toxic level. An evaluation system provides an engineering control to reduce the risk.

The radon evacuation system uses either a passive or fan-generated process to pull radon gas away from the basement, crawl space, or lowest section of the building and route through PVC piping to release the gas into the atmosphere. Reducing the level of radon exposure provides the best means to protect the nation. However, more emphasis requires standardization of the exposure baseline. Without standardization, determining the level of risk becomes subjective concerning radon exposure as the cause of lung cancer.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.