Radon is a colourless, odourless and tasteless radio active GAS formed by the breakdown of uranium. Radon is a natural radioactive material found in soil, rock and groundwater. Outside when radon is found in the air it is not a concern because it has been diluted to low concentration. Radon, in enclosed spaces, such as basements, can in some circumstances accumulate to high levels.
Serious increase in Lung Cancer risk has been idendified with high level of Radon exposure. In particular Radon exposure AND smoking pose a serious risk to health. Whereas a lifelong smoker has a one in eight likelyhood of getting lung cancer, a lifelong smoker exposed to high Radon concentrations has a ONE IN THREE likelyhood of getting lung cancer. This is a significant effect.
How does Radon get into a Building?
First a bit of background about Uranium decay
The Uranium isotope is not stable and goes through several intermediate products as it decays. Some of these intermediate products have long half lives ranging from 25 days to several billion years. Others decay in just a few days or seconds. Radon is one of the intermediate products and it has a half life of 3.8 days. Eventually it decays further and becomes stable lead.
Radon atoms are short-lived (3.8 days half life). Over the course of several days Radon becomes lead. While existing as RADON, it is a gas.
How does Radon get in a building?
Because Radon is a gas, it can seep from the ground into the air in a building mainly through the foundation, It can also be dissolved in ground water:
How do you determine Radon concentration?
Because we can't smell, taste or see it it has to be tested for. There are a number of ways of doing this. Professionals have equipment that can monitor the levels. There are also home tests. These work in various ways. The most common use a charcoal filter that accumulates radon. This is then sent to a specialized facility that can measure the Radon and report back the result. Other methods involve exposing a plastic sheet that gets etched, or exposing a charged surface and measuring the change of charge.
The concentration of Radon in homes has been found to vary a great deal even in very short time periods. It tends to be higher in winter. Not all the reasons for the wide fluctuations have been identified. Outside concentration is one factor. Water content and drainage, temperature, original concentration of Uranium, are only some of the factors.
Conditions inside the home such as ventilation, and the type of heating are factors.
To obtain an accurate picture of Radon concentration in a home it is necessary to test over a long period, (3 months or more) or to take several readings over short periods. Concentrations tend to be higher in Winter, and tend to be higher in the basement. It is therefore a good time to test and hopefully get a maximum reading.
Home basement testing in Winter will likely return a higher than average result and will give an idication of a potential problem Radon concentration.
How can Radon concentration be reduced?
Radon is a natural substance found in varying concentration in the soil. It is not likely that we can completely eliminate it. We can however reduce the concentrations to much safer levels.
There are several ways of reducing Radon concentration in a Building
Is Radon concentration the same in all localities?
Of course not. Some areas have more uranium in the soil and thus have greater concentration of Radon. The type of soil which allows for gas movement is also likely to have greater Radon concentrations.
Preliminary Canadian Radon map showing areas of higher concentration Note that the Port Hope area has tested much higher than other area due to contamination from radio active waste.
Some Radon Information Links
There are a great number of sites providing information on Radon. Most Canadian sources seem to be quoting the Government of Canada web information. Since there is alot of research currently going on it is useful to re-visit the search at regular intervals. Products are coming on the market quite fast as well. Meters and testing devices, sealants for basements, fans and ventilation systems are example of these.
Conclusion of my Radon Research
This is what I took home from my couple of days of research on the topic of Radon contamination and health concerns.
NOTE: I am NOT an expert on Radon, I would say I am an informed amateur. I spent a couple of days reading and digesting the information I found. Do your own homework, and have your home tested or buy a home test. If you think you have a problem get an expert in. If you smoke it is even more important for you to get informed. If you have a problem don't panic, it is a problem that can be solved and managed.
Nick Boothby, Maddy Dennett and Greg McDowell
REALTORS® / Salespersons
Christine DeMerchant Unlicenced Support Person
Real Estate Homeward, Brokerage
1858 Queen St. E., Toronto, On, M4L 1H1, Canada
tel: 416-698-2090 fax: 416-693-4284
Maddy's cell: 416-951-5507 Greg's cell: 647-984-3065
emails: Nick Maddy Greg