Archive for July, 2011
Silent Killer: Radon
Many people do not realize that it is possible to die of lung cancer without ever having picked up a cigarette. While it is true that the majority of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking, the second leading cause of lung cancer is something you may not even realize you are being exposed to. This silent killer could be in your home right now, and until you have a radon assessment done, you and your family could be in danger without radon remediation.
Colorless, Odorless Gas
Radon is a colorless and odorless gas, and it is present just about everywhere. That is what makes radon so dangerous, and what makes radon remediation and abatement so important. Having a radon test is certainly important, and it is always a smart idea to start by testing your home and your surroundings for this dangerous gas. But simply testing your home for radon is not enough. When the results of that test come back, you need to have a radon remediation and abatement plan in place. Only then can you breathe easy, knowing that you are taking the necessary steps to protect your family and prevent any future health problems.
One of the challenges of radon remediation is that this colorless and odorless gas can seep into your home from so many different places. Cracks in the bedrock underneath your home can lead to a radon problem, and any mitigation measures will have to address the ultimate source of the radon confirmation. Radon can also seep in to your home through the water table, and that poses a whole different remediation and mitigation problem. Radon can even get into your home through the fixtures in your plumbing. That type of radon contamination poses yet another issue for the company doing the radon remediation work.
Radon in Soil
Radon is also present in the soil in many parts of the country, so it is important that any radon remediation and mitigation company you hire have the resources necessary to thoroughly test not just the interior of your home but your landscape as well. Mitigation and remediation of the radon inside your home is certainly important, but it can be just as important to remove the radon from your environment.
One way radon mitigation companies keep radon out of your home is by setting up a barrier system to prevent the radon in the soil, groundwater and water table from getting into your home. There are all sorts of radon barrier systems on the market today, and it is important to evaluate each system, and each company, carefully. Not all radon mitigation and abatement services are the same, and it is important to look at the track record of each one before inviting that firm into your home.
When you ask a radon remediation and abatement service for an assessment of your risk, you can expect that company to spend some time examining both the interior and the exterior of your home. Radon is often more concentrated in the basement of the home, since that is the part of the home closest to the major sources of radon. Testing the radon levels in the basement can give you a good idea of your level of risk, and help you develop a radon remediation and abatement program that fits your needs and your budget. The health of your family is so important, and protecting your loved ones from harm means examining the radon levels in your home and taking the necessary mitigation and remediation steps to reduce their risk as much as possible.
Effects on the Human Body
Radiation can be briefly defined as energy that is emitted from the energy source in rays or waves, or in particles from radioactive substances. Human beings are exposed to radiation all the time, from the atmosphere, from electronic devices like televisions, microwaves, radios, cell phones, and computers, and every time we have an X-ray performed in a hospital or medical office. Radiation cannot be avoided completely and conventional wisdom says that the levels of radiation human beings are exposed to are generally not high enough to cause serious illness. But there can be long-term consequences to exposure to radiation, either from one acute single dose or from constant smaller doses over time. This article will define and discuss the consequences of environmental, medical, and nuclear radiation for the health of the human body.
Environmental radiation comes from many sources. Most people on earth are exposed to very small amounts of radiation from outer space. Sunburn is a form of skin injury caused by prolonged exposure or overexposure of the skin to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. As most people know, serious sunburns can often lead to skin cancer later on. In addition to cosmic radiation, human beings can be exposed to radiation caused by the decay of various radioactive materials here on earth, like uranium and plutonium. These materials are present in the earth’s crust, and when they decompose, they can leave very dangerous radon in their wake. Radon can seep into houses, is usually found in basements, and can cause cancer to the inhabitants of the house after prolonged exposure.
Nearly every homeowner has encountered the term “radon” either during the selling or purchasing process. Homeowners have good reason to be aware of the potential presence of radon in their home, to test radon levels, and install radon ventilation systems if the radon levels are high. Many prospective home-buyers, however, choose to forgo radon testing prior to purchasing their new home, because they are uneducated or misinformed regarding what radon is and the detrimental long-term effects it can have on the health and vitality of their families.
What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally-occurring, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is highly radioactive and extremely dense (nine times more dense than air!). It was discovered in 1899-1900 by two European physicists, Ernest Rutherford and Friedrich Ernst Dorn. Although there are many forms of radon, Radon-222 is the type that occurs most frequently in the environment.
Radon can be highly concentrated in groundwater and in the ground under where a building is constructed; the ingestion of this contaminated water, and the inhalation of the radon particles released from this water, are the two primary ways in which people are exposed to this radioactive substance. As radon decays, the particles attach to microscopic airborne materials, like dust, which facilitates its inhalation by humans.
Lung cancer is widely known as being a deadly result of smoking, however it can still afflict those who have never picked up a cigarette. Cancer, while sometimes triggered by an outside factor, is the random proliferation of cells. The body is supposed to regulate cell division, but when something interferes with its ability to maintain a balance, cells can divide at an exponential rate, causing tumors. Benign tumors pose a small threat to the body, but can usually be surgically removed. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, start in one part of the body and spread to others. This form must be treated with more complicated and less effective methods. Lung cancer spreads quickly once it forms, and it is among the hardest types to treat. In the first year, only 40% are expected to survive; by the third year, the number drops to 10%. Lung cancer takes more lives each year than colon, prostate, and breast cancer do combined, making it the deadliest form of cancer.
No. 2 Cause of Lung Cancer: Radon Gas
Tobacco products have been blamed for anywhere between 80% to 96% of lung cancer cases, but staying away from cigarettes does not guarantee healthy lungs. Secondhand smoke increases the risk, making up approximately 3,000 of the 160,000 lung cancer deaths each year. However, even without exposure to tobacco products or smoke, a person can still contract lung cancer. Asbestos has become a well known factor in causing mesothelioma, but it is also linked to lung cancer. Asbestos fibers can stay in the lungs for a lifetime, and people who have had exposure are five times as likely to develop lung cancer, even if they have never smoked. Radon gas, a product of uranium decay, causes around 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. This makes it the second leading cause of lung cancer. While most people would not consider radon gas to be a threat, the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated that almost 7% of houses contain a dangerous level of the gas, which can travel through soil. It has been shown that genetic predisposition can attribute to lung cancer development. History of lung disease, including prior lung cancer, increases the risk as well. Approximately 1% of lung cancer comes from air pollution. While smoking increases the chances, any of these risk factors alone can cause lung cancer.
When it is determined that a house has unsafe levels of radon gas, what options are available for radon mitigation? How can this poison radon gas be safely removed from the house?
The radon mitigation options appropriate for a house depend on the construction type of the house. Houses with basements, slabs, or crawl-spaces may require different techniques. For houses with basements or slabs, the most common technique for radon remediation is active subslab suction which may also be called subslab depressurization. This approach places one or more suction pipes through the slab into the material underneath the house. These pipes are then connected to a fan that draws the radon gas through the pipes and vent it above the house where it is safely dispersed.
There are other variants of this approach available as well. These variations use existing features of the house to connect to the suction pipes and provide for radon evacuation. Options include using existing perforated pipes or drain tiles around the foundation of the house, using a sump-pump hole, or using the space inside of the foundation walls found in block-wall foundations to remove the radon.
For houses with crawl-spaces, a similar technique for radon remediation is available. This approach, called submembrane suction, places a plastic sheet in the crawl-space directly above the ground and then uses a suction pipe and fan to draw the radon out from underneath the plastic and vent it to the outside. It is possible to attempt this without the plastic sheet, but it is less effective and may cause other airflow issues in the house, including increased energy costs.