Radon: an underestimated environmental toxin


Radon: an underestimated environmental toxin

The radioactive noble gas radon was underestimated for a long time. This is mainly because it is imperceptible to the human senses.

With almost 1,900 cases per year in Germany alone, radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer. Only smoking poses a higher health risk for the human respiratory tract. The soot from diesel cars and asbestos are nowhere near as dangerous for the lungs as the insidious inert gas.

What is radon?

Alongside xenon, argon, krypton, neon and helium, radon is one of the six natural noble gases on our planet. The term noble gas goes back to its property of not or hardly connecting with other substances. The gases are “noble” because they are self-sufficient.

Radon is a decay product of uranium. However, the nuclear decay does not stop with radon, because other decay products such as bismuth, lead and polonium are formed from radon.

With suitable radon measuring devices lets you determine the noble gas technically and determine the specific amount of radon in your own home.

Why the noble gas is so dangerous

The type of radioactive radiation from radon is alpha radiation. In addition to alpha radiation, there is beta radiation, gamma radiation, X-rays and neutron radiation. The alpha radiation is characterized by a low penetration depth with a simultaneously high radiation energy.

If it comes into contact with the outer skin, then radon is rather harmless, because human skin is so thick that the radioactive inert gas can hardly cause any damage. The situation is different when radon is inhaled, which happens in the form of aerosols. Radon can penetrate the soft tissue of the human lung system and change the genetic code in the cell to such an extent that there is a risk of lung cancer threatens.

What causes dangerous radon concentrations?

As a decay product of uranium, radon comes from the depths of the earth, where it enters the earth’s atmosphere through cracks and porous layers of rock. Average radon concentrations of 10 becquerels/cubic meter are not dangerous for humans. In fact, many scientists believe that the radioactive noble gas aided human evolution, as some of the gas-induced mutations turned out to be functional in humans’ adaptation to the environment.

However, if radon enters the house through cracks and fissures, the inert noble gas is now trapped in the microcosm of the house. Understanding radon means that the noble gas is the heaviest of the group and about seven times heavier than air. Therefore, it initially accumulates in the basement, but over time it can penetrate to the upper habitable floors, favored by the chimney effect. Values ​​of 100 Bq/m³ are quickly reached here, which the WHO considers questionable. Even values ​​of 300 Bq/m³ are not uncommon, at which the legislator sounds the alarm in Germany.

How to protect yourself

Airing the house regularly is simple but effective. However, the tilt ventilation is not sufficient for a sustainable exchange of air, so three quick ventilations are announced. As a guideline, residents can remember three times ten minutes in summer and three times five minutes in winter. Efficient ventilation does not eradicate the evil from the root, so experts recommend further measures.

The radioactive inert gas can be kept away from the house by sealing cracks and joints in the basement area. Silicone, which repels radon, is a good sealing material. Another area with increased security requirements is the area between the basement and the living area. It should also be impermeable to radon. In addition, the inert gas can be extracted, namely through an extraction system in the house itself and through a radon well for the foundation.

Photo credit: angellodeco / stock.adobe.com

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