Gary Ginsberg (Toxicologist) gives expert video advice on: What is 'radon'?; How dangerous is radon?; In addition to lung cancer, does radon cause other diseases? and more...
What is 'radon'?
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas that comes from bedrock. It can get into your house, because it gets into soil-gas first: from the bedrock it moves into the pores, or the spaces in the soil. And it gets drawn into homes, especially during the wintertime, because your home in the wintertime acts sort of like a chimney: the air in your home is heated, and rises, and as that air rises away from the basement, and as the furnace draws air into it to combust fuel, it pulls air up from the sub-surface--up from the soil, and it pulls that radon gas into your home during the wintertime.
How dangerous is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas, and it's like breathing radioactivity into your lungs. What actually happens to radon is that the gas gets into your lungs and then it breaks down because it's part of a radioactive decay chain. It breaks down to polonium. Polonium is a particle, so that particle lodges in your bronchi and continues to emit little doses of radiation every second into the local tissue, and that leads to lung cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Not every home has a radon problem, but even though only 15% of homes may have radon problems it's still the second leading cause of lung cancer.
In addition to lung cancer, does radon cause other diseases?
Radon doesn't cause lung irritation. It doesn't do any other damage to the lungs, so there is no warning signs. So, not only is it odourless and colourless, but it also doesn't create any other health problems that might trigger a warning and an avoidance reaction. So, you can very happily be living in a home for 20 or 30 years. The latency period for lung cancer is about 20 or 25 years; so you wouldn't know that you are building up this lung cancer risk from living in a high radon house unless you test. The other thing that people should understand is that cigarette smoke plus radon is like one plus one equals 10, That one plus one equals 2, so they're synergistic; so that may mean that if you are living in a house who someone else is smoking and they're putting particles and gases into the air, that is combining with radon to create a much greater lung cancer risk.
Which rooms of my house are most susceptible to radon exposure?
Radon levels tend to drop by about three fold per floor of your house. So if you don't have a problem in your basement you're certainly not going to have a problem on the first floor. And in fact people who live in apartment buildings or in an elevated condominium where there's no ground level living, no living on the ground level, may not need to do any radon test at all.
Where can I purchase a radon test kit?
Laboratories will supply hardware stores with the radon test kits. So you actually buy it from the hardware store and there will be instructions, you don't return it to the hardware store. There will be instructions where to send the kit off to to have it analyzed and your report will come back, not from the hardware store, but the report will come back from the testing laboratory.
Is testing for radon expensive?
The average radon test is fifteen or twenty dollars whether you're testing the indoor air in your home or your drinking water. So that's why, since it is so inexpensive, it may be a good idea to do multiple tests, one in the lowest part of your house, the basement, and then one also where you spend the most time, a first floor kitchen or a first floor living room.
What should I do if my home is contaminated with radon?
The good news with radon is that if your home does have a radon problem you can fix it. In fact, if you are trying to sell a house you can fix the radon problem before it becomes an issue at the point of sale. Now the way to do that is by ventilating the soil gas before those gases have a chance to emerge out of the soil and into the home. It's a very simple solution, they put pipes in around the foundation of your house with a fan in line with the pipes so that it pulls the air away, and these pipes have perforations in them. So it pulls the air out of the soil into the pipes and pulls that air away from your house and just vents it to the outdoor air. That can typically cost about 2,000 dollars.