Many homeowners have heard of radon gas. They may have had residential radon testing services in their home. They may even have had to get radon mitigation and abatement services done in their home but many people do not know all that much about radon gas.
There are good reasons to know something about radon gas. If you know nothing else it is important to understand how dangerous the colorless, odorless and tasteless gas can be to human health. Both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Office of the Surgeon General have discovered that the second leading cause of lung cancer is the exposure to radon gas. They have reported that at least 21,000 people die from lung cancer that they got from exposure to this gas every year in the United States alone. Research in the U.S., China and Europe has reveled the carcinogenic nature of the gas. This is why there are so many radon mitigation and abatement companies around.
That does not explain what radon is. Nor does this explain how it gets into people’s home.
Radon was discovered in 1899. Ernest Rutherford and Robert Owens made the discovery of the fifth radioactive element. That same year, Pierre and Marie Curie found that the gas that was emitted stayed radioactive for at least a month. Rutherford and Owens referred to to as “emanation” and then “thorium emanation.” In 1904, the substance was admitted to the family of gases referred to as the “noble gases,” and it was called “radon.”
It was Sir William Ramsay who discovered that the new gas shared many of the attributes that were, before the discovery of radon gas, limited to argon, krypton and xenon. Ramsay was able to finally isolate radon gas in 1910. It was during this year that scientists saw it was the heaviest of these noble gases. It was also the heaviest gas they had discovered.
While scientists were not aware of the properties of radon gas until 1899, its impact on human health had been felt for centuries. The most extreme exposure occurred in mines. There, it can reach concentrations in becquerel (BQ, this is the measure of radioactivity) of 1 million BQ/m3. Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, known most often as simply, “Paracelsus,” was a Swiss philosopher, botanist, astrologer, physician, and general occultist. He was the first person to discover zinc. He also was able to identify an ailment that plagued people who worked in the mines. He and Georg Agricola thought that mines needed to be better ventilated to prevent workers from developing the condition. He did not know it at the time but the “wasting disease” Paracelsus was describing was lung cancer. Researchers did not make this connection until 1879.
Radon mitigation and abatement became a thing in the United States after researchers spent several decades looking into problems uranium miners were suffering in the southwestern part of the country. The standards for radon mitigation and abatement were not established until 1971.
In the 1950s, people began to learn that radon gas could be found in indoor air. Research into the sources of this indoor radon gas. This is also when scientists began looking at the impact it could have on human health, how much could be dangerous and what the best radon mitigation and abatement techniques were. In 1984, the problems associated with radon gas got a lot of attention. A worker in a Pennsylvania nuclear plant was discovered to have been exposed to a large amount of radiation but not at work. The source was found to be the radon gas in his home.
When uranium decays, it produced radium, which decays into radon gas. It is present all over the earth and can exist, as was noted, in rocks, soil and water. People can be exposed several ways. They can ingest it or they can inhale it. When it has been dissolved in water and consumed, the bigger problem seems to be when it is released from rocks, soil or water in gas form and is inhaled. This is how it is most dangerous to human health. Scientists have even found it on the moon.
As dangerous as radon is, it is possible to remove it once found in a home.