What is Radon?
Radon Gas is a toxic, naturally occurring, odourless, colourless, invisible, radioactive noble gas that can affect any home. Radon is radioactive and causes lung cancer in humans. It comes out of the soil and rock and building materials in and around our homes.
Radon Gas seeps into our basements through cracks, holes, pipes and other openings in our walls and floors. It will even seep through concrete.
Radon Gas, or its radioactive decay products (RDP’s) are inhaled as part of the normal breathing process.
The RDP”s can stick in the lung tissues and continue to irradiate these sensitive tissues. Lung tissues do not have the same protective layers of dead cells that our skin has to protect us from alpha radiation.
Many of these irradiated cells are killed by this radiation, but some are just wounded and recover, a few mutate into cancer cells. Most of these will be taken care of by the bodies natural defenses, but those that are not, are a problem.
The higher the Radon level in your home the more often a cell gets irradiated.
For the Scientifically Minded
Radon is a cancer causing radioactive gas that is caused by naturally radioactive breakdown of particles of uranium in the soil, rock and water.
Decay Chain Uranium to Radon Type of Radiation Half Life
|Uranium 238||Alpha||4.47 billion years|
|Thorium 234||Beta Gamma||24.1 days|
|Protactinum 234||Beta Gamma||1 minute|
|Uranium 234||Alpha Gamma||245,000 years|
|Thorium 230||Alpha Gamma||76,000 years|
|Radium 226||Alpha Gamma||1600 years|
|Radon 222||Alpha||3.8 days|
Radon Gas is a class 1 carcinogen: that means it causes cancer in humans.
Because Radon Gas is a noble gas it does not bond well with other particles. It begins to move through the soil seeking places of lower pressure/concentration. It normally escapes to the air and is found naturally all over the world. When found outdoors, it is treated as background radiation. When it seeps into a home (an area of lower pressure than the soil around it) it can collect in much higher quantities and become dangerous to the occupants of that home.
The Radon decay chain has a group of highly radioactive (short half life) daughters. The radiation given off while inside the lungs is the reason why Radon Gas causes lung cancer.
Decay chain of Radon to Lead
|Radon 222||Alpha||3.8 days|
|Polonium 218||Alpha||3 minutes|
|Lead 214||Beta Gamma||27 minutes|
|Bismuth 214||Beta Gamma||20 minutes|
|Lead 210||Beta Gamma||22 years|
|Pulonium 210||Alpha||5 days|
|Lead 206||Stable||138 days|
When Radon decay products are inhaled they stick to sensitive lung tissue. Being short-lived, they break down while they are in the lungs. This exposes the lung tissue to radiation.
This is an excerpt from Uranium: a Discussion Guide. Published by Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility
Is Radioactivity Dangerous?
Alpha particles, beta particles and gamma rays can do great harm to a living cell by breaking its chemical bonds at random and disrupting the cell’s genetic instructions.
Massive exposure to atomic radiation can cause death within a few days or weeks. Smaller doses can cause burns, loss of hair, nausea, loss of fertility and pronounced changes in the blood. Still smaller doses, too small to cause any immediate visible damage, can result in cancer or leukemia in the person exposed, congenital abnormalities in his or her children (including physical deformities, diseases and mental retardation), and possible genetic defects in future generations.
Outside the body, alpha emitters are the least harmful, and gamma emitters are more dangerous than beta emitters.
Inside the body, however, alpha emitters are the most dangerous. They are about 20 times more damaging than beta emitters or gamma emitters. Thus, although alpha radiation cannot penetrate through a sheet of paper or a dead layer of skin, alpha emitters are extremely hazardous when taken into the body by inhalation or ingestion, or through a cut or open sore.
How do radioactive elements produce other radioactive elements?
When atoms undergo radioactive decay, they change into new substances, because they have lost something of themselves. These by-products of radioactive decay are called “decay products” or “progeny”. In many cases, the decay products are also radioactive. If so, they too will disintegrate, producing even more decay products and giving off even more atomic radiation.’
If an alpha particle which is released during breakdown hits a live cell, and within the cell hits the nucleus, and within the nucleus hits the DNA, and within the DNA hits and damages the cancer suppressant gene, increased risk for contracting lung cancer exists. In addition to the alpha particle damage, the alpha particle can also cause ionization of material around the DNA that can also damage it.
Knowing this, are you willing to take the risk?