Radon, what you can’t see can kill you (Part 1)


Not long ago folks didn’t think much more about radon other than what they might have seen on the periodic table in High School chemistry.  Radon, Rn, atomic number 86 appears right there under Xennon.  You either tried not to remember it, or didn’t care in most cases.  You can’t see it, smell it or taste it but it may be   bathing your body and your lungs right where you sit now.  Here we tell you why it is that you should really care about element number 86 in those science books.

Many years ago folks didn’t have to worry about radon.  In the past people most often lived above grade in homes that were open to the air.  Many of us can remember the whistles of the windows as air passed through late at night or in a storm.  Newer building technology has changed things and those whistles are mostly gone.  In an effort to become more energy efficient and make better use of land space houses are often tighter and include living area that is below ground level.  With this newer more modern style of residential building comes a higher level of indoor air polution including radon.

Radon is the natural breakdown product of uranium decoposition in the earth’s crust.  That’s right, uranium.  The same element that everyone is after for making nuclear power plant rods and refining into weapons grade material in order to make nuclear bombs.  Like uranium, Radon is also radioactive. It is found nearly everywhere in the world but does tend to concentrate in certain areas higher than others.  One major difference is that while Uranium is a solid material, Radon exists in as a gas at normal earth temperatures.  As a result, Radon can move around from place to place and collect in open spaces.  The following graphic shows a map where radon is often found in higher concentrations is the United States (The blue color represents areas that have high potential for unsafe levels 4 pCi/L, green represent moderate potential for elevated levels of radon 2pCi/L to 4pCi/L and the yellow color represents potential levels that are most likely under 2 pCi/L ):

 Radon Potential in the United States

If you live in one of the blue areas of the above map it is highly likely that a tightly closed house with direct contact with the earth may contain air inside of it which contains dangerous levels of radon gas.  The EPA action level for radon gas removal in a building is 4 pCi/L.  In other words, if tests show on average that the air inside a building is greater than 4 pCi/L something needs to be done.  In the next article we will discuss why it is that something needs to be done when air levels reach this magic number of 4.