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Updated 01 February 2016

Radon

Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that has no taste, smell, or color. Over time, the uranium in rocks and soil decays and radon gas is released. The gas lets off radioactive particles. Rn is the atomic symbol for radon, and 86 is the atomic number.

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BACKGROUND

Radon is an invisible radioactive gas that has no taste, smell, or color. Over time, the uranium in rocks and soil decays and radon gas is released. The gas lets off radioactive particles. Rn is the atomic symbol for radon, and 86 is the atomic number. Niton is an old term for radon.

Because radon is a gas, it can enter buildings through openings or cracks in the foundation. The radon gas itself decays into radioactive solids, called radon daughters or radon progeny. The radon progeny attach to dust particles in the air and can be inhaled.

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air or pCi/L. PCi is a unit of measurement named after Pierre and Marie Curie, who studied radon and plutonium. Measurements of radon in the air may also be expressed in Working Levels (WL). One Working Level (WL) is equal to 200pCi/L.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that there is no known safe level of radon. Radon levels are higher indoors than outdoors. Basements, ground floors, and first-floor rooms often have the highest levels of radon. The average indoor radon level is about 1.3pCi/L.

Although radon gas generally exists at very low levels in the air outdoors, higher levels are possible and can be toxic and increase the risk of lung cancer. The average outdoor level of radon is about 0.4pCi/L. However, in confined places such as mines, radon is found in higher amounts.

Radon was first recognized as a health problem after scientists studied underground uranium miners who were exposed to it in the 1950s to the 1970s. They died of lung cancer at abnormally high rates. This research was confirmed when animal studies in rodents showed high rates of lung tumors in those exposed to high levels of radon. According to the EPA, radioactive radon gas is a cancer-causing compound (a carcinogen) and a serious health hazard.

However, even though many studies have shown that radon exposure increases the risk of lung cancer, this finding has not always been observed. This may be because the levels of radon vary over time and measuring a person's long-term exposure may be difficult.

The EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month to promote awareness about potential radon exposure and to encourage radon testing at home and in the workplace.

In some parts of the world, radon is used as a therapeutic alternative medicine for illnesses and diseases, such as arthritis and asthma. Radon therapy is not an approved therapy in the United States.

Radium emanation (radon gas) was historically used to treat the early stages of cancer. Today, radium emanation is not considered safe; however, radium chloride, a radon compound, is currently being tested as an early form of cancer treatment.

TECHNIQUE

Measuring radon: Radon is measured in picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L). PCi is a unit of measurement named after Pierre and Marie Curie, who studied radon and plutonium. Measurements of radon in the air may also be expressed in Working Levels (WL). One Working Level (WL) is equal to 200pCi/L.

Radon testing: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month to promote awareness about potential radon exposure and to encourage radon testing at home and in the workplace. The U.S. surgeon general and the EPA recommend that all homeowners check for the presence of radon through the use of a radon detector available at select retail stores.

A qualified radon service professional can test for radon levels and is able to take action and reduce the radon levels found in homes and buildings. The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) and the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) are privately-run organizations that accredit and certify professionals in radon testing and mitigation.

There are two main methods of testing for radon: short-term and long-term testing.

Short-term tests can take anywhere from two to 90 days. There are different short-term measuring devices, including charcoal canisters, alpha tracks, electret ion chambers, continuous monitors, and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors. Short-term tests are not as reliable as long-term tests because radon levels can vary from day to day. To get the most accurate results, long-term testing is recommended.

Long-term tests take at least 90 days to perform. Alpha tracks and electret detectors are often used in long-term testing. Long-term testing of radon concentration levels will produce more reliable measurements of the average year-round radon level.

Radon tests can also be categorized as passive or active radon testing devices.

Passive radon testing devices include charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, charcoal liquid scintillation devices, and electret ion chamber detectors. The devices are exposed to the indoor air in a person's home for a specific time period that is dependant on the test length. They are then sent to a laboratory for analysis. Both long- and short-term passive devices are available for purchase at most hardware stores and are fairly inexpensive.

Active radon testing devices include continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors. These types of tests may be more reliable than passive devices. They monitor and record radon in the air continuously. A qualified radon tester may be needed to correctly read the report from these types of devices.

The EPA recommends that Americans have levels of radon no higher than between 2pCi/L and 4pCi/L in their homes. The average level of radon concentration in American homes is about 1.3pCi/L. The average level of radon concentration in outdoor air is 0.4pCi/L. This is 1/10th of the EPA recommended action level.

Radon therapy: In some parts of the world, radon is used as a therapy for illnesses and diseases such as arthritis and asthma. Radon therapy is currently not an approved therapy in the United States.

Radium emanation (radon gas) was historically used to treat the early stages of cancer. Today, radium emanation is not considered safe; however, radium chloride, a radon compound, is being currently being tested as an early form of cancer treatment.

There are two methods of the therapeutic use of radon: inhalation of radon gas in the air and radon therapy in water. In the United States, the only form of radon therapy available is by inhalation in radon mines in Montana, where individuals are not supervised or prescribed radon therapy in the care of a doctor. In other parts of the world, including Europe, radon therapy is available through baths, steam, and inhalation in various tunnels and mines.

Radon baths are often covered tubs, where the individual's head is not enclosed. This reduces the amount of radon inhaled in the air. Other radon therapies include steam therapy, where individuals are enclosed in a container and radon-containing steam is pumped into the enclosure. Again, this method minimizes the inhalation of radon by keeping the head out of the container. Radon enters the bloodstream through the skin with the use of these methods.

Radon therapy in Europe is only prescribed after a complete health examination indicating that the patient could benefit from radon therapy. In addition, radon treatments are often prescribed at specific doses of duration.

THEORY/EVIDENCE

Radon therapy: In some parts of the world, natural radon has been used for decades as a therapeutic alternative medicine, and sometimes it is still used today to alleviate the symptoms of medical conditions such as arthritis and asthma. However, radon therapy is criticized by many physicians and is currently not an approved therapy in the United States.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that there is no known safe level of radon, some arthritis sufferers purposefully expose themselves to radon gas in radon mines in Montana to help alleviate their symptoms. At the radon mines in Montana, individuals are not supervised or prescribed radon therapy in the care of a doctor.

Some scientists believe that small amounts of stress on the body caused by radon may have a beneficial effect. This is based on the hormesis phenomenon, where stress on living things from chemicals, heat, or radiation may stimulate positive effects.

Most scientific studies of the therapeutic use of radon have originated in Europe and Asia. Some clinical trials have shown that natural radon therapy may have long-term effects in reducing pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have shown that bathing in baths containing natural radon and carbon dioxide has more therapeutic and longer-lasting effects than when bathing in carbon dioxide baths alone. However, there is limited research in this area, and the safety and potential effectiveness of radon is unclear. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not publicly document any data regarding radon therapy.

A clinical study showed that radon therapy in 213 patients suffering from seronegative spondyloarthritis worked better than traditional drug therapy. Spondyloarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects the joints of the spine. Seronegative is a term used to describe when a person has a negative test result for rheumatoid factor in the blood. Other studies have documented that positive effects of spa therapy with radon can last up to 40 weeks. However, additional studies are needed to determine the safety and effectiveness of radon therapy.

Despite limited evidence of safety and effectiveness, some people continue to use radon for therapeutic purposes. Proponents claim that radon may offer health benefits and be less expensive than some conventional medications. There are two methods of the therapeutic use of radon: inhalation of radon gas in the air and radon therapy in water. In the United States, the only form of radon therapy available is by inhalation in radon mines in Montana. In other parts of the world, including Europe, radon therapy is available through baths, steam ,and inhalation in various tunnels and mines.

A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Radon exposure: Radon gas is an environmental pollutant that is a serious health risk. Radon was first recognized as a health problem after scientists studied underground uranium miners who were exposed to it in the 1950s to the 1970s. The miners died of lung cancer at abnormally high rates. This research was confirmed when animal studies on rodents showed high rates of lung tumors in those exposed to high levels of radon.

Radon exposure is most likely to occur in the home or workplace. Outdoors, radon is found in such small amounts that there is minimal risk of radon poisoning. However, radon can enter homes and buildings from the soil in the ground. Once inside, radon can build up to hazardous levels.

Radon exposure can occur in two ways: through the inhalation of air where radon levels are high and through the digestion of water that contains radon. The exposure risk is lower in water, although water coming from a private well should be tested for radon. Studies have shown that the risk of cancer is lower through radon digestion compared to inhalation.

Smoking combined with radon exposure further increases the risk of lung cancer. The effects of radon exposure can take years to be seen, and it may be many years after exposure before the onset of lung cancer. It is currently not known if children are at a greater risk from radon than adults, and this research area is controversial.

HEALTH IMPACT/SAFETY

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has designated January as National Radon Action Month to promote public awareness about radon. Environmental health professionals (EHPs) have put in place local community action plans to alert people about indoor air quality (IAQ) and radon problems. One contributing factor of respiratory illnesses is indoor air pollution; air quality may be monitored with the use of various devices, such as radon detectors.

Radon exposure: Outdoors, radon is found in such small amounts that there is a minimal risk of radon poisoning. However, radon can enter homes and buildings from the soil in the ground. Once inside, radon can build up to hazardous levels. Radon exposure can occur in two ways: through the inhalation of air where radon levels are high and through the digestion of water that contains radon. The exposure risk is lower in water, although water coming from a private well should be tested for radon.

Radon was first recognized as a health problem after scientists studied underground uranium miners who were exposed to it in the 1950s to the 1970s. The miners died of lung cancer at abnormally high rates. This research was confirmed when animal studies on rodents showed high rates of lung tumors in those exposed to high levels of radon. According to the EPA, radioactive radon gas is a cancer-causing compound (a carcinogen) and a serious health hazard.

Radon exposure is most likely to occur in the home or workplace. Usually, no immediate symptoms of radon poisoning are present. Radon exposure contributes to about 7,000-30,000 lung cancer deaths each year. The EPA has estimated that one in 15 U.S. homes has a high radon level at or above the recommended radon action level. Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer. The risk appears to be equal among men and women. However, some analyses suggest that radon-associated lung cancer risk may decrease with age.

Studies have shown that the risk of cancer is lower through radon digestion compared to inhalation. When there is radon in the water, most of the risk comes from radon released into the air while water is used for household purposes such as showering.

Radon testing: Radon levels are measured in picocuries (pCi). Radon levels outdoors range from less than 0.1pCi/L to about 30pCi/L and average at 0.2pCi/L. Radon levels found indoors range from less than 1pCi/l to about 3,000 pCi/L and average between 1 and 2pCi/L. Radon levels in soil range from 20-30pCi/L to more than 100,000pCi/L. The average soil in the United States contains between 200 and 2,000pCi of radon per liter of soil air. In ground water, radon levels range from about 100 to nearly three million pCi/L.

The U.S. surgeon general and the EPA recommend that all homeowners check for the presence of radon through the use of a radon detector available at select retail stores.

Radon testing should especially be done if living in an area where radon is known to be a problem. Radon and carbon monoxide testing kits are commercially available for the home or office. Also, it is recommended that home owners consider installing tile or wood floors in new homes instead of new carpet to decrease the risk of radon exposure.

Reducing radon exposure: The primary method of reducing radon in buildings is through the installation of a vent pipe system and fan. This pulls radon from under the building and vents it outside. This method is called the soil suction radon reduction system. To further help this method remove radon, all cracks in the foundation and other openings should be sealed. This makes this method more effective and cost-efficient.

Radon-resistant construction techniques can also reduce levels of radon inside homes and buildings. New homes can be built using radon-resistant techniques. This will help block radon from entering the home. Additionally, radon-resistant construction techniques follow applicable energy codes, which lower utility bills.

The gas permeable layer is often a layer of gravel placed beneath the flooring of a house. The gas can travel within this space freely. A plastic sheet can be placed on top of the gas permeable layer. This helps prevent radon soil gas from entering the building. Then, any cracks in the concrete foundation are sealed with caulking. A vent pipe runs from the gas permeable layer to the roof, safely venting radon outside and above the house.

An electrical junction box can be installed should an electric venting fan be needed in the future. An electrical junction box is a container used to conceal and protect electrical circuit wiring.

There are two ways to treat radon in water. A point-of-entry treatment can remove radon from water before it enters a building. Point-of-use treatment devices can remove radon from the water at the tap level. This method only treats a portion of the water used and does not reduce the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the building.

Radon therapy: Despite limited evidence of safety and effectiveness, some people use radon for therapeutic purposes. Proponents claim that radon may offer health benefits and be less expensive than some conventional medications. However, radon therapy is criticized by many physicians and is not an approved therapy in the United States. A qualified healthcare provider should be consulted before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

FUTURE RESEARCH OR APPLICATIONS

In the future, it is likely that the effects of radon therapy will continue to be studied and observed throughout Europe and Asia. However, there is currently a lack of government-approved studies being conducted in the United States at this time.

AUTHOR INFORMATION

This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

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Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)


 
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