Radon Exposure (Poisoning)

Radon Exposure (Poisoning)

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    We all breathe a certain level of radon gas every day, usually at very low levels. It is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that seeps up through the ground and diffuses into the air. Radon is a radioactive gas released from the normal decay of uranium in rocks and soil. In a few locations, depending on the geology of the area, radon dissolves into ground water and can be released into the air when the water is used. Radon gas usually exists at very low levels outdoors. 

    Those who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk for developing lung cancer. Ongoing exposure to radon gas is the second most common risk factor for lung cancer. Researchers generally agree that 5 to 10 percent of all lung cancer cases are directly caused by radon gas. Smokers who are exposed to radon gas long term, have an even greater risk of developing lung cancer than non-smokers with similar exposure.
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    Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors. Radon gas can also be released from building materials or from water obtained from wells that contain radon. Radon levels may be higher in homes that are well insulated, tightly sealed or built on uranium-rich soil. Because of closeness to the ground, basement and first floors in a house typically have the highest radon levels.
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    Since there is no treatment or cure for radon poisoning, prevention is of prime importance. Fortunately, prevention is quite simple, but it does require an awareness of the possibility of excessive levels of radon in your surroundings. Areas with potentially high radon levels should be tested, and if high levels are confirmed, methods to reduce the amount of radon should be performed. Radon levels in the air can be tested with easy-to-use kits or by a qualified radon tester. Reducing the amount of radon in a building usually involves the installation of a type of ventilation system. This should be done by a contractor with expertise in controlling radon levels, and the cost will vary depending on the method used.

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    Radon poisoning does not immediately cause any symptoms. The only known effect of radon poisoning is a greatly increased risk of lung cancer. Radon poisoning is the second most common cause of lung cancer in the United States, after cigarette smoking. The combination of smoking and radon poisoning makes a person especially susceptible to developing lung cancer.

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    In both children and adults, lung cancer is the only health problem caused by radon poisoning. Experts disagree about whether children are more at risk of developing lung cancer than adults. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a branch of the United States Department of Health and Human Services) states that the risk of lung cancer from radon poisoning is close to twice as high in children. This has been suggested to be caused by higher levels of harmful radioactivity in children's lungs because children breathe faster and have a different size and shape of lungs than adults. However, the United States Environmental Protection Agency claims that there is no clear scientific evidence that the risk of radon-induced lung cancer is higher in children.

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    Radon poisoning occurs when a person breathes an excessive amount of radon gas. Radon gas is produced from the spontaneous breakdown of uranium, which exists in dirt and rocks, so the air in mines tends to have elevated levels of radon. The relatively poor ventilation in many mines further increases their radon levels. These elevated levels explain why miners have an increased risk of developing radon poisoning, compared to people who do not work in mines. Individuals who work in uranium mines have the highest risk, but all mines have potentially high levels of radon. Other occupations involving work in underground passages (such as subway systems, utility tunnels, and caverns) are also associated with an increased risk of radon poisoning.

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    Unfortunately, the only way a doctor can tell if you've been harmed by radon poisoning is when it's too late and the radon has already caused excessive damage. If you're concerned about radon poisoning, the best thing to do would be to get your home, workplace, and other common living spaces tested for their radon levels. This way, you can be aware of the amounts of radon around you and know if a change of environment would be advisable.

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    Radon is present in nearly all air. Everyone breathes radon in every day, usually at very low levels. However, people who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk for developing lung cancer.

    Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors. It can also be released from building materials, or from water obtained from wells that contain radon. Radon levels can be higher in homes that are well insulated, tightly sealed, and/or built on uranium-rich soil. Because of their closeness to the ground, basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels.

    This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

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    Radon poisoning is not directly affected by any other illnesses or conditions. However, the risk of developing lung cancer from radon poisoning is increased by about 10 to 20 times in smokers, as opposed to non-smokers. The combination of smoking and excessive radon exposure has a dramatically increased effect on the risk of lung cancer; the risk of the combination is higher than the sum of the risks for smoking or radon exposure alone. The reason for this is unknown, but it does explain why individuals with radon poisoning should definitely stop smoking.

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    There is no radon level that is guaranteed to be absolutely safe. However, the level of radon in normal outdoor air is considered to be too low to cause health problems, and it has been established by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the goal level to which radon levels in homes and other areas should be reduced. This level is 0.4 picoCuries per Liter (pCi/L).

    Although the outdoor level is the ideal, the EPA has currently set 4 pCi/L as an -action level,- and any home with a radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher should undergo measures to reduce the level. The EPA suggests radon-reduction methods also be considered for homes with radon levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L. Levels below are 2 pCi/L are generally considered to be nonhazardous. The average radon level in homes in the United States is about 1.3 pCi/L, but approximately one household in 15 has a level above 4 pCi/L.