When working around radon, you may worry about the safe limits of gas exposure. It’s certainly something to be concerned about, and something that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Radon-222 is carcinogenic to humans, and as it can be inhaled, that makes it a dangerous risk for lung cancer. Each year there are approximately twenty thousand deaths in the United States of America alone due to radon-related lung cancers, mostly in miners.
Health and safety regulations have improved since the 1950s, when cancers were first linked to radon gas exposure, but it is still a problem. Some studies link leukemia to radon gas exposure but the connection is not yet proven, and more studies will have to be performed to determine whether or not there is solid evidence linking the two.
Radon is a radioactive noble gas, forming as a decay product of radium, which is itself part of the decay products of uranium. It has no taste or color, and no odor. It is very dense. It is also difficult to detect without specialized equipment, which makes it all the more dangerous. Radon is radioactive, as the name would suggest, and has a half-life of 3.8 days. It is the most common radioactive source and is responsible for most cases of radiation exposure in the world, and due to its prevalence everywhere on earth, can accumulate in buildings. The most common areas to find high concentrations of radon gas are in basements and attics. Radon is also the source of most of the world’s background radiation levels.
The environmental protection agency’s action level- the level at which something should be done about the gas- is a concentration of 4 pCi/L. Even at that level, long-term exposure leads to a 50% higher risk of cancer. In residential areas, the EPA recommends that action is taken to eliminate the radon at a level of 2 pCi/L. In the strictest sense there is no safe level of radon exposure, in that any exposure can increase your cancer risks.
However, different methods of radon ingestion have different risk factors. Inhaling the gas can have quite serious effects: however, consuming radon dissolved in water is less harmful. The radon will disappear from the body within thirty to seventy minutes. However, Radon gas’ risk factor increases if you are a smoker. With radon gas exposure, a smoker’s risk of lung cancer is ten times larger than the risk in a non-smoker after exposure.