Radon

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Radon,  86Rn
Radon
Pronunciation /ˈrdɒn/ (RAY-don)
Appearancecolorless gas
Mass number 222(most stable isotope)
Radon in the periodic table
Hydrogen Helium
Lithium Beryllium Boron Carbon Nitrogen Oxygen Fluorine Neon
Sodium Magnesium Aluminium Silicon Phosphorus Sulfur Chlorine Argon
Potassium Calcium Scandium Titanium Vanadium Chromium Manganese Iron Cobalt Nickel Copper Zinc Gallium Germanium Arsenic Selenium Bromine Krypton
Rubidium Strontium Yttrium Zirconium Niobium Molybdenum Technetium Ruthenium Rhodium Palladium Silver Cadmium Indium Tin Antimony Tellurium Iodine Xenon
Caesium Barium Lanthanum Cerium Praseodymium Neodymium Promethium Samarium Europium Gadolinium Terbium Dysprosium Holmium Erbium Thulium Ytterbium Lutetium Hafnium Tantalum Tungsten Rhenium Osmium Iridium Platinum Gold Mercury (element) Thallium Lead Bismuth Polonium Astatine Radon
Francium Radium Actinium Thorium Protactinium Uranium Neptunium Plutonium Americium Curium Berkelium Californium Einsteinium Fermium Mendelevium Nobelium Lawrencium Rutherfordium Dubnium Seaborgium Bohrium Hassium Meitnerium Darmstadtium Roentgenium Copernicium Nihonium Flerovium Moscovium Livermorium Tennessine Oganesson
Xe

Rn

Og
astatineradonfrancium
Atomic number (Z)86
Group group 18 (noble gases)
Period period 6
Block p-block
Element category   Noble gas
Electron configuration [ Xe ] 4f14 5d10 6s2 6p6
Electrons per shell
2, 8, 18, 32, 18, 8
Physical properties
Phase at  STP gas
Melting point 202  K (−71 °C,−96 °F)
Boiling point 211.5 K(−61.7 °C,−79.1 °F)
Density (at STP)9.73 g/L
when liquid (at b.p.)4.4 g/cm3
Critical point 377 K, 6.28 MPa [1]
Heat of fusion 3.247  kJ/mol
Heat of vaporization 18.10 kJ/mol
Molar heat capacity 5R/2 = 20.786 J/(mol·K)
Vapor pressure
P (Pa)1101001 k10 k100 k
at T (K)110121134152176211
Atomic properties
Oxidation states 0, +2, +6
Electronegativity Pauling scale: 2.2
Ionization energies
  • 1st: 1037 kJ/mol
Covalent radius 150  pm
Van der Waals radius 220 pm
Color lines in a spectral range Radon spectrum visible.png
Color lines in a spectral range
Spectral lines of radon
Other properties
Natural occurrence from decay
Crystal structure face-centered cubic (fcc)
Cubic-face-centered.svg
Thermal conductivity 3.61×103  W/(m·K)
Magnetic ordering non-magnetic
CAS Number 10043-92-2
History
Discovery Ernest Rutherford and Robert B. Owens (1899)
First isolation William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray (1910)
Main isotopes of radon
Iso­tope Abun­dance Half-life (t1/2) Decay mode Pro­duct
210Rn syn 2.4 h α 206Po
211Rnsyn14.6 h ε 211At
α 207Po
222Rn trace 3.8235 dα 218Po
224Rnsyn1.8 h β 224Fr
| references

Radon is a chemical element with the symbol  Rn and atomic number  86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas. It occurs naturally in minute quantities as an intermediate step in the normal radioactive decay chains through which thorium and uranium slowly decay into lead and various other short-lived radioactive elements; radon itself is the immediate decay product of radium. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of only 3.8 days, making radon one of the rarest elements since it decays away so quickly. However, since thorium and uranium are two of the most common radioactive elements on Earth, and they have three isotopes with very long half-lives, on the order of several billions of years, radon will be present on Earth long into the future in spite of its short half-life as it is continually being generated. The decay of radon produces many other short-lived nuclides known as radon daughters, ending at stable isotopes of lead. [2]

Chemical element a species of atoms having the same number of protons in the atomic nucleus

A chemical element is a species of atom having the same number of protons in their atomic nuclei. For example, the atomic number of oxygen is 8, so the element oxygen consists of all atoms which have 8 protons.

Symbol (chemistry) an arbitrary or conventional sign used in chemical science to represent a chemical element

In chemistry, a symbol is an abbreviation for a chemical element. Symbols for chemical elements normally consist of one or two letters from the Latin alphabet and are written with the first letter capitalised.

Atomic number number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom

The atomic number or proton number of a chemical element is the number of protons found in the nucleus of every atom of that element. The atomic number uniquely identifies a chemical element. It is identical to the charge number of the nucleus. In an uncharged atom, the atomic number is also equal to the number of electrons.

Contents

Unlike all the other intermediate elements in the aforementioned decay chains, radon is, under normal conditions, gaseous and easily inhaled. Radon gas is considered a health hazard. It is often the single largest contributor to an individual's background radiation dose, but due to local differences in geology, [3] the level of the radon-gas hazard differs from location to location. Despite its short lifetime, radon gas from natural sources, such as uranium-containing minerals, can accumulate in buildings, especially, due to its high density, in low areas such as basements and crawl spaces. Radon can also occur in ground water – for example, in some spring waters and hot springs. [4]

Background radiation is a measure of the level of ionizing radiation present in the environment at a particular location which is not due to deliberate introduction of radiation sources.

Epidemiological studies have shown a clear link between breathing high concentrations of radon and incidence of lung cancer. Radon is a contaminant that affects indoor air quality worldwide. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked. While radon is the second most frequent cause of lung cancer, it is the number one cause among non-smokers, according to EPA policy-oriented estimates. [5] Significant uncertainties exist for the health effects of low-dose exposures. [6] Unlike the gaseous radon itself, radon daughters are solids and stick to surfaces, such as dust particles in the air. If such contaminated dust is inhaled, these particles can also cause lung cancer. [7]

Lung cancer cancer in the lung

Lung cancer, also known as lung carcinoma, is a malignant lung tumor characterized by uncontrolled cell growth in tissues of the lung. This growth can spread beyond the lung by the process of metastasis into nearby tissue or other parts of the body. Most cancers that start in the lung, known as primary lung cancers, are carcinomas. The two main types are small-cell lung carcinoma (SCLC) and non-small-cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). The most common symptoms are coughing, weight loss, shortness of breath, and chest pains.

Indoor air quality Air quality within and around buildings and structures

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is the air quality within and around buildings and structures. IAQ is known to affect the health, comfort and well-being of building occupants. Poor indoor air quality has been linked to sick building syndrome, reduced productivity and impaired learning in schools.

United States Environmental Protection Agency Agency of the U.S. Federal Government

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government for environmental protection. President Richard Nixon proposed the establishment of EPA on July 9, 1970 and it began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the President and approved by Congress. The current Administrator is former Deputy Administrator Andrew R. Wheeler, who had been acting administrator since July 2018. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the Administrator is normally given cabinet rank.

Characteristics

Emission spectrum of radon, photographed by Ernest Rutherford in 1908. Numbers at the side of the spectrum are wavelengths. The middle spectrum is of Radium emanation (radon), while the outer two are of helium (added to calibrate the wavelengths). Radon spectrum.png
Emission spectrum of radon, photographed by Ernest Rutherford in 1908. Numbers at the side of the spectrum are wavelengths. The middle spectrum is of Radium emanation (radon), while the outer two are of helium (added to calibrate the wavelengths).

Physical properties

Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless [8] gas and therefore is not detectable by human senses alone. At standard temperature and pressure, radon forms a monatomic gas with a density of 9.73 kg/m3, about 8 times the density of the Earth's atmosphere at sea level, 1.217 kg/m3. [9] Radon is one of the densest gases at room temperature and is the densest of the noble gases. Although colorless at standard temperature and pressure, when cooled below its freezing point of 202 K (−71 °C; −96 °F), radon emits a brilliant radioluminescence that turns from yellow to orange-red as the temperature lowers. [10] Upon condensation, radon glows because of the intense radiation it produces. [11] Radon is sparingly soluble in water, but more soluble than lighter noble gases. Radon is appreciably more soluble in organic liquids than in water.

Standard conditions for temperature and pressure are standard sets of conditions for experimental measurements to be established to allow comparisons to be made between different sets of data. The most used standards are those of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), although these are not universally accepted standards. Other organizations have established a variety of alternative definitions for their standard reference conditions.

In physics and chemistry, monatomic is a combination of the words "mono" and "atomic", and means "single atom". It is usually applied to gases: a monatomic gas is one in which atoms are not bound to each other. All chemical elements will be monatomic in the gas phase at sufficient high temperatures. The thermodynamic behavior of monatomic gas is extremely simple when compared to polyatomic gases because it is free of any rotational or vibrational energy.

Atmosphere of Earth Layer of gases surrounding the planet Earth

The atmosphere of Earth is the layer of gases, commonly known as air, that surrounds the planet Earth and is retained by Earth's gravity. The atmosphere of Earth protects life on Earth by creating pressure allowing for liquid water to exist on the Earth's surface, absorbing ultraviolet solar radiation, warming the surface through heat retention, and reducing temperature extremes between day and night.

Chemical properties

Radon is a member of the zero-valence elements that are called noble gases, and is chemically not very reactive. However, the 3.8-day half-life of radon-222 makes it useful in physical sciences as a natural tracer. Because radon is a gas at standard conditions, unlike its decay-chain parents, it can readily be extracted from them for research. [12]

In chemistry, the valence or valency of an element is a measure of its combining power with other atoms when it forms chemical compounds or molecules. The concept of valence was developed in the second half of the 19th century and helped successfully explain the molecular structure of inorganic and organic compounds. The quest for the underlying causes of valence led to the modern theories of chemical bonding, including the cubical atom (1902), Lewis structures (1916), valence bond theory (1927), molecular orbitals (1928), valence shell electron pair repulsion theory (1958), and all of the advanced methods of quantum chemistry.

In chemistry, reactivity is the impetus for which a chemical substance undergoes a chemical reaction, either by itself or with other materials, with an overall release of energy.

A radioactive tracer, radiotracer, or radioactive label, is a chemical compound in which one or more atoms have been replaced by a radionuclide so by virtue of its radioactive decay it can be used to explore the mechanism of chemical reactions by tracing the path that the radioisotope follows from reactants to products. Radiolabeling or radiotracing is thus the radioactive form of isotopic labeling.

It is inert to most common chemical reactions, such as combustion, because the outer valence shell contains eight electrons. This produces a stable, minimum energy configuration in which the outer electrons are tightly bound. [13] Its first ionization energy—the minimum energy required to extract one electron from it–is 1037 kJ/mol. [14] In accordance with periodic trends, radon has a lower electronegativity than the element one period before it, xenon, and is therefore more reactive. Early studies concluded that the stability of radon hydrate should be of the same order as that of the hydrates of chlorine (Cl
2
) or sulfur dioxide (SO
2
), and significantly higher than the stability of the hydrate of hydrogen sulfide (H
2
S
). [15]

An inert gas is a gas that does not undergo chemical reactions under a set of given conditions. The noble gases often do not react with many substances and were historically referred to as the inert gases. Inert gases are used generally to avoid unwanted chemical reactions degrading a sample. These undesirable chemical reactions are often oxidation and hydrolysis reactions with the oxygen and moisture in air. The term inert gas is context-dependent because several of the noble gases can be made to react under certain conditions.

Combustion High-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel (the reductant) and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized, often gaseous products, in a mixture termed as smoke

Combustion, or burning, is a high-temperature exothermic redox chemical reaction between a fuel and an oxidant, usually atmospheric oxygen, that produces oxidized, often gaseous products, in a mixture termed as smoke. Combustion in a fire produces a flame, and the heat produced can make combustion self-sustaining. Combustion is often a complicated sequence of elementary radical reactions. Solid fuels, such as wood and coal, first undergo endothermic pyrolysis to produce gaseous fuels whose combustion then supplies the heat required to produce more of them. Combustion is often hot enough that incandescent light in the form of either glowing or a flame is produced. A simple example can be seen in the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen into water vapor, a reaction commonly used to fuel rocket engines. This reaction releases 242 kJ/mol of heat and reduces the enthalpy accordingly :

Electron subatomic particle with negative electric charge

The electron is a subatomic particle, symbol
e
or
β
, whose electric charge is negative one elementary charge. Electrons belong to the first generation of the lepton particle family, and are generally thought to be elementary particles because they have no known components or substructure. The electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton. Quantum mechanical properties of the electron include an intrinsic angular momentum (spin) of a half-integer value, expressed in units of the reduced Planck constant, ħ. Being fermions, no two electrons can occupy the same quantum state, in accordance with the Pauli exclusion principle. Like all elementary particles, electrons exhibit properties of both particles and waves: they can collide with other particles and can be diffracted like light. The wave properties of electrons are easier to observe with experiments than those of other particles like neutrons and protons because electrons have a lower mass and hence a longer de Broglie wavelength for a given energy.

Because of its cost and radioactivity, experimental chemical research is seldom performed with radon, and as a result there are very few reported compounds of radon, all either fluorides or oxides. Radon can be oxidized by powerful oxidizing agents such as fluorine, thus forming radon difluoride (RnF
2
). [16] [17] It decomposes back to its elements at a temperature of above 523 K (250 °C; 482 °F), and is reduced by water to radon gas and hydrogen fluoride: it may also be reduced back to its elements by hydrogen gas. [18] It has a low volatility and was thought to be RnF
2
. Because of the short half-life of radon and the radioactivity of its compounds, it has not been possible to study the compound in any detail. Theoretical studies on this molecule predict that it should have a Rn–F bond distance of 2.08  Ångström (Å), and that the compound is thermodynamically more stable and less volatile than its lighter counterpart xenon difluoride (XeF
2
). [19] The octahedral molecule RnF
6
was predicted to have an even lower enthalpy of formation than the difluoride. [20] The [RnF]+ ion is believed to form by the following reaction: [21]

Rn (g) + 2 [O
2
]+
[SbF
6
]
(s) → [RnF]+
[Sb
2
F
11
]
(s) + 2 O
2
(g)

For this reason, antimony pentafluoride together with chlorine trifluoride and N
2
F
2
Sb
2
F
11
have been considered for radon gas removal in uranium mines due to the formation of radon–fluorine compounds. [12] Radon compounds can be formed by the decay of radium in radium halides, a reaction that has been used to reduce the amount of radon that escapes from targets during irradiation. [18] Additionally, salts of the [RnF]+ cation with the anions SbF
6
, TaF
6
, and BiF
6
are known. [18] Radon is also oxidised by dioxygen difluoride to RnF
2
at 173 K (−100 °C; −148 °F). [18]

Radon oxides are among the few other reported compounds of radon; [22] only the trioxide (RnO
3
) has been confirmed. [23] The higher fluorides RnF
4
and RnF
6
have been claimed, [23] and are calculated to be stable, [24] but it is doubtful whether they have yet been synthesized. [23] They may have been observed in experiments where unknown radon-containing products distilled together with xenon hexafluoride: these may have been RnF
4
, RnF
6
, or both. [18] Trace-scale heating of radon with xenon, fluorine, bromine pentafluoride, and either sodium fluoride or nickel fluoride was claimed to produce a higher fluoride as well which hydrolysed to form RnO
3
. While it has been suggested that these claims were really due to radon precipitating out as the solid complex [RnF]+
2
[NiF6]2−, the fact that radon coprecipitates from aqueous solution with CsXeO
3
F
has been taken as confirmation that RnO
3
was formed, which has been supported by further studies of the hydrolysed solution. That [RnO3F] did not form in other experiments may have been due to the high concentration of fluoride used. Electromigration studies also suggest the presence of cationic [HRnO3]+ and anionic [HRnO4] forms of radon in weakly acidic aqueous solution (pH > 5), the procedure having previously been validated by examination of the homologous xenon trioxide. [23]

It is likely that the difficulty in identifying higher fluorides of radon stems from radon being kinetically hindered from being oxidised beyond the divalent state because of the strong ionicity of radon difluoride (RnF
2
) and the high positive charge on radon in RnF+; spatial separation of RnF2 molecules may be necessary to clearly identify higher fluorides of radon, of which RnF
4
is expected to be more stable than RnF
6
due to spin–orbit splitting of the 6p shell of radon (RnIV would have a closed-shell 6s2
6p2
1/2
configuration). Therefore, while RnF
4
should have a similar stability to xenon tetrafluoride (XeF
4
), RnF
6
would likely be much less stable than xenon hexafluoride (XeF
6
): radon hexafluoride would also probably be a regular octahedral molecule, unlike the distorted octahedral structure of XeF
6
, because of the inert pair effect. [25] [26] Extrapolation down the noble gas group would suggest also the possible existence of RnO, RnO2, and RnOF4, as well as the first chemically stable noble gas chlorides RnCl2 and RnCl4, but none of these have yet been found. [18]

Radon carbonyl (RnCO) has been predicted to be stable and to have a linear molecular geometry. [27] The molecules Rn
2
and RnXe were found to be significantly stabilized by spin-orbit coupling. [28] Radon caged inside a fullerene has been proposed as a drug for tumors. [29] [30] Despite the existence of Xe(VIII), no Rn(VIII) compounds have been claimed to exist; RnF8 should be highly unstable chemically (XeF8 is thermodynamically unstable). It is predicted that the most stable Rn(VIII) compound would be barium perradonate (Ba2RnO6), analogous to barium perxenate. [24] The instability of Rn(VIII) is due to the relativistic stabilization of the 6s shell, also known as the inert pair effect. [24]

Radon reacts with the liquid halogen fluorides ClF, ClF3, ClF5, BrF3, BrF5, and IF7 to form RnF2. In halogen fluoride solution, radon is nonvolatile and exists as the RnF+ and Rn2+ cations; addition of fluoride anions results in the formation of the complexes RnF
3
and RnF2−
4
, paralleling the chemistry of beryllium(II) and aluminium(III). [18] The standard electrode potential of the Rn2+/Rn couple has been estimated as +2.0 V, [31] although there is no evidence for the formation of stable radon ions or compounds in aqueous solution. [18]

Isotopes

The radium or uranium series. Decay chain(4n+2, Uranium series).svg
The radium or uranium series.

Radon has no stable isotopes. Thirty-nine radioactive isotopes have been characterized, with atomic masses ranging from 193 to 231. [32] [33] The most stable isotope is 222Rn, which is a decay product of 226Ra, a decay product of 238U. [34] A trace amount of the (highly unstable) isotope 218Rn is also among the daughters of 222Rn.

Three other radon isotopes have a half-life of over an hour: 211Rn, 210Rn and 224Rn. The 220Rn isotope is a natural decay product of the most stable thorium isotope (232Th), and is commonly referred to as thoron. It has a half-life of 55.6 seconds and also emits alpha radiation. Similarly, 219Rn is derived from the most stable isotope of actinium (227Ac)—named "actinon"—and is an alpha emitter with a half-life of 3.96 seconds. [32] No radon isotopes occur significantly in the neptunium (237Np) decay series, though a trace amount of the (extremely unstable) isotope 217Rn is produced.

Daughters

222Rn belongs to the radium and uranium-238 decay chain, and has a half-life of 3.8235 days. Its four first products (excluding marginal decay schemes) are very short-lived, meaning that the corresponding disintegrations are indicative of the initial radon distribution. Its decay goes through the following sequence: [32]

The radon equilibrium factor [35] is the ratio between the activity of all short-period radon progenies (which are responsible for most of radon's biological effects), and the activity that would be at equilibrium with the radon parent.

If a closed volume is constantly supplied with radon, the concentration of short-lived isotopes will increase until an equilibrium is reached where the rate of decay of each decay product will equal that of the radon itself. The equilibrium factor is 1 when both activities are equal, meaning that the decay products have stayed close to the radon parent long enough for the equilibrium to be reached, within a couple of hours. Under these conditions, each additional pCi/L of radon will increase exposure by 0.01  working level (WL, a measure of radioactivity commonly used in mining). These conditions are not always met; in many homes, the equilibrium factor is typically 40%; that is, there will be 0.004 WL of daughters for each pCi/L of radon in the air. [36] 210Pb takes much longer (decades) to come in equilibrium with radon, but, if the environment permits accumulation of dust over extended periods of time, 210Pb and its decay products may contribute to overall radiation levels as well.

Because of their electrostatic charge, radon progenies adhere to surfaces or dust particles, whereas gaseous radon does not. Attachment removes them from the air, usually causing the equilibrium factor in the atmosphere to be less than 1. The equilibrium factor is also lowered by air circulation or air filtration devices, and is increased by airborne dust particles, including cigarette smoke. The equilibrium factor found in epidemiological studies is 0.4. [37]

History and etymology

Apparatus used by Ramsay and Whytlaw-Gray to isolate radon. M is a capillary tube where approximately 0.1 mm were isolated. Radon mixed with hydrogen entered the evacuated system through siphon A; mercury is shown in black. Radon apparatus.png
Apparatus used by Ramsay and Whytlaw-Gray to isolate radon. M is a capillary tube where approximately 0.1 mm were isolated. Radon mixed with hydrogen entered the evacuated system through siphon A; mercury is shown in black.

Radon was the fifth radioactive element to be discovered, in 1899 by Ernest Rutherford and Robert B. Owens, [38] after uranium, thorium, radium, and polonium. [39] [40] [41] [42] In 1900, Friedrich Ernst Dorn reported some experiments in which he noticed that radium compounds emanate a radioactive gas he named 'Radium Emanation' ('Ra Em'). [43] Before that, in 1899, Pierre and Marie Curie observed that the gas emitted by radium remained radioactive for a month. [44] Later that year, Robert B. Owens and Ernest Rutherford, at McGill University in Montreal, noticed variations when trying to measure radiation from thorium oxide. [45] Rutherford noticed that the compounds of thorium continuously emit a radioactive gas that retains the radioactive powers for several minutes, and called this gas 'emanation' (from Latin emanare—to elapse and emanatio—expiration), [46] and later 'Thorium Emanation' ('Th Em'). In 1901, Rutherford and Harriet Brooks demonstrated that the emanations are radioactive, but credited the Curies for the discovery of the element. [47] In 1903, similar emanations were observed from actinium by André-Louis Debierne, [48] [49] and were called 'Actinium Emanation' ('Ac Em').

Several shortened names were soon suggested for the three emanations: exradio, exthorio, and exactinio in 1904; [50] radon (Ro), thoron (To), and akton or acton (Ao) in 1918; [51] radeon, thoreon, and actineon in 1919, [52] and eventually radon, thoron, and actinon in 1920. [53] (The name radon is not related to that of the Austrian mathematician Johann Radon.) The likeness of the spectra of these three gases with those of argon, krypton, and xenon, and their observed chemical inertia, led Sir William Ramsay to suggest in 1904 that the "emanations" might contain a new element of the noble gas family. [50]

In the early part of the 20th century in the US, gold contaminated with the radon daughter 210Pb entered the jewelry industry. This was from gold seeds that had held 222Rn that had been melted down after the radon had decayed. [54] [55]

In 1909, Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray isolated radon, and determined its melting temperature and approximate density. In 1910, they determined that it was the heaviest known gas. [56] and wrote that "L'expression l'émanation du radium est fort incommode", (the expression 'radium emanation' is very awkward) and suggested the new name niton (Nt) (from the Latin nitens–shining) to emphasize the radioluminescence property, [57] and in 1912 it was accepted by the International Commission for Atomic Weights. In 1923, the International Committee for Chemical Elements and International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) chose among the names radon (Rn), thoron (Tn), and actinon (An). Later, when isotopes were numbered instead of named, the element took the name of the most stable isotope, radon, while Tn was renamed 220Rn and An was renamed 219Rn, which caused some confusion in the literature regarding the element's discovery as while Dorn had discovered radon the isotope, he had not been the first to discover radon the element. As late as the 1960s, the element was also referred to simply as emanation. [58] The first synthesized compound of radon, radon fluoride, was obtained in 1962. [59] Even today, the word radon may refer to either the element or its isotope 222Rn, with thoron remaining in use as a short name for 220Rn to stem this ambiguity. [60]

The danger of high exposure to radon in mines, where exposures can reach 1,000,000  Bq/m3, has long been known. In 1530, Paracelsus described a wasting disease of miners, the mala metallorum, and Georg Agricola recommended ventilation in mines to avoid this mountain sickness (Bergsucht). [61] [62] In 1879, this condition was identified as lung cancer by Harting and Hesse in their investigation of miners from Schneeberg, Germany. The first major studies with radon and health occurred in the context of uranium mining in the Joachimsthal region of Bohemia. [63] In the US, studies and mitigation only followed decades of health effects on uranium miners of the Southwestern US employed during the early Cold War; standards were not implemented until 1971. [64]

The presence of radon in indoor air was documented as early as 1950. Beginning in the 1970s, research was initiated to address sources of indoor radon, determinants of concentration, health effects, and mitigation approaches. In the US, the problem of indoor radon received widespread publicity and intensified investigation after a widely publicized incident in 1984. During routine monitoring at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant, a worker was found to be contaminated with radioactivity. A high concentration of radon in his home was subsequently identified as responsible. [65]

Occurrence

Concentration units

Pb is formed from the decay of Rn. Here is a typical deposition rate of Pb as observed in Japan as a function of time, due to variations in radon concentration. Lead210inairatjapan.png
Pb is formed from the decay of Rn. Here is a typical deposition rate of Pb as observed in Japan as a function of time, due to variations in radon concentration.

All discussions of radon concentrations in the environment refer to 222Rn. While the average rate of production of 220Rn (from the thorium decay series) is about the same as that of 222Rn, the amount of 220Rn in the environment is much less than that of 222Rn because of the short half-life of 220Rn (55 seconds, versus 3.8 days respectively). [2]

Radon concentration in the atmosphere is usually measured in becquerel per cubic meter (Bq/m3), the SI derived unit. Another unit of measurement common in the US is picocuries per liter (pCi/L); 1 pCi/L=37 Bq/m3. [36] Typical domestic exposures average about 48 Bq/m3 indoors, though this varies widely, and 15 Bq/m3 outdoors. [67]

In the mining industry, the exposure is traditionally measured in working level (WL), and the cumulative exposure in working level month (WLM); 1 WL equals any combination of short-lived 222Rn daughters (218Po, 214Pb, 214Bi, and 214Po) in 1 liter of air that releases 1.3 × 105 MeV of potential alpha energy; [36] 1 WL is equivalent to 2.08 × 10−5 joules per cubic meter of air (J/m3). [2] The SI unit of cumulative exposure is expressed in joule-hours per cubic meter (J·h/m3). One WLM is equivalent to 3.6 × 10−3 J·h/m3. An exposure to 1 WL for 1 working-month (170 hours) equals 1 WLM cumulative exposure. A cumulative exposure of 1 WLM is roughly equivalent to living one year in an atmosphere with a radon concentration of 230 Bq/m3. [68]

222Rn decays to 210Pb and other radioisotopes. The levels of 210Pb can be measured. The rate of deposition of this radioisotope is weather-dependent.

Radon concentrations found in natural environments are much too low to be detected by chemical means. A 1,000 Bq/m3 (relatively high) concentration corresponds to 0.17  picogram per cubic meter (pg/m3). The average concentration of radon in the atmosphere is about 6×1018 molar percent, or about 150 atoms in each milliliter of air. [69] The radon activity of the entire Earth's atmosphere originates from only a few tens of grams of radon, consistently replaced by decay of larger amounts of radium, thorium, and uranium. [70]

Natural

Radon concentration next to a uranium mine Radon Concentration next to Uranium Mine.PNG
Radon concentration next to a uranium mine

Radon is produced by the radioactive decay of radium-226, which is found in uranium ores, phosphate rock, shales, igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granite, gneiss, and schist, and to a lesser degree, in common rocks such as limestone. [3] [71] Every square mile of surface soil, to a depth of 6 inches (2.6 km2 to a depth of 15 cm), contains approximately 1 gram of radium, which releases radon in small amounts to the atmosphere. [2] On a global scale, it is estimated that 2.4 billion curies (90 EBq) of radon are released from soil annually. [72]

Radon concentration can differ widely from place to place. In the open air, it ranges from 1 to 100 Bq/m3, even less (0.1 Bq/m3) above the ocean. In caves or ventilated mines, or poorly ventilated houses, its concentration climbs to 20–2,000 Bq/m3. [73]

Radon concentration can be much higher in mining contexts. Ventilation regulations instruct to maintain radon concentration in uranium mines under the "working level", with 95th percentile levels ranging up to nearly 3 WL (546 pCi 222Rn per liter of air; 20.2 kBq/m3, measured from 1976 to 1985). [2] The concentration in the air at the (unventilated) Gastein Healing Gallery averages 43 kBq/m3 (1.2 nCi/L) with maximal value of 160 kBq/m3 (4.3 nCi/L). [74]

Radon mostly appears with the decay chain of the radium and uranium series (222Rn), and marginally with the thorium series (220Rn). The element emanates naturally from the ground, and some building materials, all over the world, wherever traces of uranium or thorium can be found, and particularly in regions with soils containing granite or shale, which have a higher concentration of uranium. Not all granitic regions are prone to high emissions of radon. Being a rare gas, it usually migrates freely through faults and fragmented soils, and may accumulate in caves or water. Owing to its very short half-life (four days for 222Rn), radon concentration decreases very quickly when the distance from the production area increases. Radon concentration varies greatly with season and atmospheric conditions. For instance, it has been shown to accumulate in the air if there is a meteorological inversion and little wind. [75]

High concentrations of radon can be found in some spring waters and hot springs. [76] The towns of Boulder, Montana; Misasa; Bad Kreuznach, Germany; and the country of Japan have radium-rich springs that emit radon. To be classified as a radon mineral water, radon concentration must be above 2 nCi/L (74 kBq/m3). [77] The activity of radon mineral water reaches 2,000 kBq/m3 in Merano and 4,000 kBq/m3 in Lurisia (Italy). [74]

Natural radon concentrations in the Earth's atmosphere are so low that radon-rich water in contact with the atmosphere will continually lose radon by volatilization. Hence, ground water has a higher concentration of 222Rn than surface water, because radon is continuously produced by radioactive decay of 226Ra present in rocks. Likewise, the saturated zone of a soil frequently has a higher radon content than the unsaturated zone because of diffusional losses to the atmosphere. [78] [79]

In 1971, Apollo 15 passed 110 km (68 mi) above the Aristarchus plateau on the Moon, and detected a significant rise in alpha particles thought to be caused by the decay of 222Rn. The presence of 222Rn has been inferred later from data obtained from the Lunar Prospector alpha particle spectrometer. [80]

Radon is found in some petroleum. Because radon has a similar pressure and temperature curve to propane, and oil refineries separate petrochemicals based on their boiling points, the piping carrying freshly separated propane in oil refineries can become radioactive because of decaying radon and its products. [81]

Residues from the petroleum and natural gas industry often contain radium and its daughters. The sulfate scale from an oil well can be radium rich, while the water, oil, and gas from a well often contains radon. Radon decays to form solid radioisotopes that form coatings on the inside of pipework. [81]

Accumulation in buildings

Typical log-normal radon distribution in dwellings. Radon Lognormal distribution.gif
Typical log-normal radon distribution in dwellings.
Predicted fraction of U.S. homes having concentrations of radon exceeding the EPA's recommended action level of 4 pCi/L US homes over recommended radon levels.gif
Predicted fraction of U.S. homes having concentrations of radon exceeding the EPA's recommended action level of 4 pCi/L

High concentrations of radon in homes were discovered by chance in 1985 after the stringent radiation testing conducted at a nuclear power plant entrance revealed that Stanley Watras, an engineer at the plant, was contaminated by radioactive substances. [82] Typical domestic exposures are of approximately 100 Bq/m3 (2.7 pCi/L) indoors. Some level of radon will be found in all buildings. Radon mostly enters a building directly from the soil through the lowest level in the building that is in contact with the ground. High levels of radon in the water supply can also increase indoor radon air levels. Typical entry points of radon into buildings are cracks in solid foundations and walls, construction joints, gaps in suspended floors and around service pipes, cavities inside walls, and the water supply. [8] [83] Radon concentrations in the same location may differ by a factor of two over a period of one hour. Also, the concentration in one room of a building may be significantly different from the concentration in an adjoining room. [2] The soil characteristics of the dwellings are the most important source of radon for the ground floor and higher concentration of indoor radon observed on lower floors. Most of the high radon concentrations have been reported from places near fault zones; hence the existence of a relation between the exhalation rate from faults and indoor radon concentrations is obvious. [83]

The distribution of radon concentrations will generally differ from room to room, and the readings are averaged according to regulatory protocols. Indoor radon concentration is usually assumed to follow a lognormal distribution on a given territory. [84] Thus, the geometric mean is generally used for estimating the "average" radon concentration in an area. [85]

The mean concentration ranges from less than 10 Bq/m3 to over 100 Bq/m3 in some European countries. [86] Typical geometric standard deviations found in studies range between 2 and 3, meaning (given the 68–95–99.7 rule) that the radon concentration is expected to be more than a hundred times the mean concentration for 2 to 3% of the cases.

Some of the highest radon hazard in the US is found in Iowa and in the Appalachian Mountain areas in southeastern Pennsylvania. [87] Iowa has the highest average radon concentrations in the US due to significant glaciation that ground the granitic rocks from the Canadian Shield and deposited it as soils making up the rich Iowa farmland. [88] Many cities within the state, such as Iowa City, have passed requirements for radon-resistant construction in new homes. The second highest readings in Ireland were found in office buildings in the Irish town of Mallow, County Cork, prompting local fears regarding lung cancer. [89]

In a few locations, uranium tailings have been used for landfills and were subsequently built on, resulting in possible increased exposure to radon. [2]

Since radon is a colorless, odorless gas, the only way to know how much is present in the air or water is to perform tests. In the US, radon test kits are available to the public at retail stores, such as hardware stores, for home use, and testing is available through licensed professionals, who are often home inspectors. Efforts to reduce indoor radon levels are called radon mitigation. In the US, the EPA recommends all houses be tested for radon.

Industrial production

Radon is obtained as a by-product of uraniferous ores processing after transferring into 1% solutions of hydrochloric or hydrobromic acids. The gas mixture extracted from the solutions contains H
2
, O
2
, He, Rn, CO
2
, H
2
O
and hydrocarbons. The mixture is purified by passing it over copper at 993 K (720 °C; 1,328 °F) to remove the H
2
and the O
2
, and then KOH and P
2
O
5
are used to remove the acids and moisture by sorption. Radon is condensed by liquid nitrogen and purified from residue gases by sublimation. [90]

Radon commercialization is regulated, but it is available in small quantities for the calibration of 222Rn measurement systems, at a price, in 2008, of almost US$6,000(equivalent to $6,982 in 2018) per milliliter of radium solution (which only contains about 15 picograms of actual radon at any given moment). [91] Radon is produced by a solution of radium-226 (half-life of 1,600 years). Radium-226 decays by alpha-particle emission, producing radon that collects over samples of radium-226 at a rate of about 1 mm3/day per gram of radium; equilibrium is quickly achieved and radon is produced in a steady flow, with an activity equal to that of the radium (50 Bq). Gaseous 222Rn (half-life of about four days) escapes from the capsule through diffusion. [92]

Concentration scale

Bq/m3pCi/LOccurrence example
1~0.027Radon concentration at the shores of large oceans is typically 1 Bq/m3.

Radon trace concentration above oceans or in Antarctica can be lower than 0.1 Bq/m3.

100.27Mean continental concentration in the open air: 10 to 30 Bq/m3.

Based on a series of surveys, the global mean indoor radon concentration is estimated to be 39 Bq/m3.

1002.7Typical indoor domestic exposure. Most countries have adopted a radon concentration of 200–400 Bq/m3 for indoor air as an Action or Reference Level. If testing shows levels less than 4 picocuries radon per liter of air (150 Bq/m3), then no action is necessary. A cumulated exposure of 230 Bq/m3 of radon gas concentration during a period of 1 year corresponds to 1 WLM.
1,00027Very high radon concentrations (>1000 Bq/m3) have been found in houses built on soils with a high uranium content and/or high permeability of the ground. If levels are 20 picocuries radon per liter of air (800 Bq/m3) or higher, the home owner should consider some type of procedure to decrease indoor radon levels. Allowable concentrations in uranium mines are approximately 1,220 Bq/m3 (33 pCi/L) [93]
10,000270

The concentration in the air at the (unventilated) Gastein Healing Gallery averages 43 kBq/m3 (about 1.2 nCi/L) with maximal value of 160 kBq/m3 (about 4.3 nCi/L). [74]

100,000~2700

About 100,000 Bq/m3 (2.7 nCi/L) was measured in Stanley Watras's basement. [94] [95]

1,000,00027000Concentrations reaching 1,000,000 Bq/m3 can be found in unventilated uranium mines.
5.54 × 1019~1.5 × 1018Theoretical upper limit: Radon gas (222Rn) at 100% concentration (1 atmosphere, 0 °C); 1.538×105 curies/gram; [96] 5.54×1019 Bq/m3.

Applications

Medical

An early-20th-century form of quackery was the treatment of maladies in a radiotorium. [97] It was a small, sealed room for patients to be exposed to radon for its "medicinal effects". The carcinogenic nature of radon due to its ionizing radiation became apparent later on. Radon's molecule-damaging radioactivity has been used to kill cancerous cells, [98] but it does not increase the health of healthy cells. The ionizing radiation causes the formation of free radicals, which results in cell damage, causing increased rates of illness, including cancer.

Exposure to radon has been suggested to mitigate autoimmune diseases, a process known as radiation hormesis, such as arthritis. [99] [100] As a result, in the late 20th century and early 21st century, "health mines" established in Basin, Montana, attracted people seeking relief from health problems such as arthritis through limited exposure to radioactive mine water and radon. The practice is discouraged because of the well-documented ill effects of high-doses of radiation on the body. [101]

Radioactive water baths have been applied since 1906 in Jáchymov, Czech Republic, but even before radon discovery they were used in Bad Gastein, Austria. Radium-rich springs are also used in traditional Japanese onsen in Misasa, Tottori Prefecture. Drinking therapy is applied in Bad Brambach, Germany. Inhalation therapy is carried out in Gasteiner-Heilstollen, Austria, in Świeradów-Zdrój, Czerniawa-Zdrój, Kowary, Lądek Zdrój, Poland, in Harghita Băi, Romania, and in Boulder, Montana. In the US and Europe, there are several "radon spas", where people sit for minutes or hours in a high-radon atmosphere in the belief that low doses of radiation will invigorate or energize them. [100] [102]

Radon has been produced commercially for use in radiation therapy, but for the most part has been replaced by radionuclides made in particle accelerators and nuclear reactors. Radon has been used in implantable seeds, made of gold or glass, primarily used to treat cancers, known as brachytherapy. The gold seeds were produced by filling a long tube with radon pumped from a radium source, the tube being then divided into short sections by crimping and cutting. The gold layer keeps the radon within, and filters out the alpha and beta radiations, while allowing the gamma rays to escape (which kill the diseased tissue). The activities might range from 0.05 to 5 millicuries per seed (2 to 200 MBq). [98] The gamma rays are produced by radon and the first short-lived elements of its decay chain (218Po, 214Pb, 214Bi, 214Po).

Radon and its first decay products being very short-lived, the seed is left in place. After 12 half-lives (43 days), radon radioactivity is at 1/2,000 of its original level. At this stage, the predominant residual activity originates from the radon decay product 210Pb, whose half-life (22.3 years) is 2,000 times that of radon (and whose activity is thus 1/2,000 of radon's), and its descendants 210Bi and 210Po.

Scientific

Radon emanation from the soil varies with soil type and with surface uranium content, so outdoor radon concentrations can be used to track air masses to a limited degree. This fact has been put to use by some atmospheric scientists. Because of radon's rapid loss to air and comparatively rapid decay, radon is used in hydrologic research that studies the interaction between groundwater and streams. Any significant concentration of radon in a stream is a good indicator that there are local inputs of groundwater.

Radon soil-concentration has been used in an experimental way to map buried close-subsurface geological faults because concentrations are generally higher over the faults. [103] Similarly, it has found some limited use in prospecting for geothermal gradients. [104]

Some researchers have investigated changes in groundwater radon concentrations for earthquake prediction. [105] [106] [107] Radon has a half-life of approximately 3.8 days, which means that it can be found only shortly after it has been produced in the radioactive decay chain. For this reason, it has been hypothesized that increases in radon concentration is due to the generation of new cracks underground, which would allow increased groundwater circulation, flushing out radon. The generation of new cracks might not unreasonably be assumed to precede major earthquakes. In the 1970s and 1980s, scientific measurements of radon emissions near faults found that earthquakes often occurred with no radon signal, and radon was often detected with no earthquake to follow. It was then dismissed by many as an unreliable indicator. [108] As of 2009, it was under investigation as a possible precursor by NASA. [109]

Radon is a known pollutant emitted from geothermal power stations because it is present in the material pumped from deep underground. It disperses rapidly, and no radiological hazard has been demonstrated in various investigations. In addition, typical systems re-inject the material deep underground rather than releasing it at the surface, so its environmental impact is minimal. [110]

In the 1940s and '50s, radon was used for industrial radiography. [111] [112] Other X-ray sources, which became available after World War II, quickly replaced radon for this application, as they were lower in cost and had less hazard of alpha radiation.

Health risks

In mines

Radon-222 decay products have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as being carcinogenic to humans, [113] and as a gas that can be inhaled, lung cancer is a particular concern for people exposed to elevated levels of radon for sustained periods. During the 1940s and '50s, when safety standards requiring expensive ventilation in mines were not widely implemented, [114] radon exposure was linked to lung cancer among non-smoking miners of uranium and other hard rock materials in what is now the Czech Republic, and later among miners from the Southwestern US [115] [116] [117] and South Australia. [118] Despite these hazards being known in the early 1950s, [119] this occupational hazard remained poorly managed in many mines until the 1970s. During this period, several entrepreneurs opened former uranium mines in the US to the general public and advertised alleged health benefits from breathing radon gas underground. Health benefits claimed included pain, sinus, asthma and arthritis relief, [120] [121] but these were proven to be false and the government banned such advertisements in 1975. [122]

Since that time, ventilation and other measures have been used to reduce radon levels in most affected mines that continue to operate. In recent years, the average annual exposure of uranium miners has fallen to levels similar to the concentrations inhaled in some homes. This has reduced the risk of occupationally induced cancer from radon, although health issues may persist for those who are currently employed in affected mines and for those who have been employed in them in the past. [123] As the relative risk for miners has decreased, so has the ability to detect excess risks among that population. [124]

Residues from processing of uranium ore can also be a source of radon. Radon resulting from the high radium content in uncovered dumps and tailing ponds can be easily released into the atmosphere and affect people living in the vicinity. [125]

In addition to lung cancer, researchers have theorized a possible increased risk of leukemia due to radon exposure. Empirical support from studies of the general population is inconsistent, and a study of uranium miners found a correlation between radon exposure and chronic lymphocytic leukemia. [126]

Miners (as well as milling and ore transportation workers) who worked in the uranium industry in the US between the 1940s and 1971 may be eligible for compensation under the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA). Surviving relatives may also apply in cases where the formerly employed person is deceased.

Domestic-level exposure

Radon exposure (mostly radon daughters) has been linked to lung cancer in numerous case-control studies performed in the US, Europe and China. There are approximately 21,000 deaths per year in the US due to radon-induced lung cancers. [5] One of the most comprehensive radon studies performed in the United States by Dr. R. William Field and colleagues found a 50% increased lung cancer risk even at the protracted exposures at the EPA's action level of 4 pCi/L. North American and European pooled analyses further support these findings. [127] However, the discussion about the opposite results is still continuing, [128] [129] [130] especially a recent retrospective case-control study of lung cancer risk which showed substantial cancer rate reduction for radon concentrations between 50 and 123 Bq/m3. [131]

Most models of residential radon exposure are based on studies of miners, and direct estimates of the risks posed to homeowners would be more desirable. [123] Because of the difficulties of measuring the risk of radon relative to smoking, models of their effect have often made use of them.

Radon has been considered the second leading cause of lung cancer and leading environmental cause of cancer mortality by the EPA. [132] Others have reached similar conclusions for the United Kingdom [123] and France. [133] Radon exposure in homes and offices may arise from certain subsurface rock formations, and also from certain building materials (e.g., some granites). The greatest risk of radon exposure arises in buildings that are airtight, insufficiently ventilated, and have foundation leaks that allow air from the soil into basements and dwelling rooms.

Action and reference level

WHO presented in 2009 a recommended reference level (the national reference level), 100 Bq/m3, for radon in dwellings. The recommendation also says that where this is not possible, 300 Bq/m3 should be selected as the highest level. A national reference level should not be a limit, but should represent the maximum acceptable annual average radon concentration in a dwelling. [134]

The actionable concentration of radon in a home varies depending on the organization doing the recommendation, for example, the EPA encourages that action be taken at concentrations as low as 74 Bq/m3 (2 pCi/L), [67] and the European Union recommends action be taken when concentrations reach 400 Bq/m3 (11 pCi/L) for old houses and 200 Bq/m3 (5 pCi/L) for new ones. [135] On 8 July 2010, the UK's Health Protection Agency issued new advice setting a "Target Level" of 100 Bq/m3 whilst retaining an "Action Level" of 200 Bq/m3. [136] The same levels (as UK) apply to Norway from 2010; in all new housings preventative measures should be taken against radon accumulation.

Inhalation and smoking

Results from epidemiological studies indicate that the risk of lung cancer increases with exposure to residential radon. A well-known example of source of error is smoking, the main risk factor for lung cancer. In the West, tobacco smoke is estimated to cause about 90% of all lung cancers. [ citation needed ]

According to the EPA, the risk of lung cancer for smokers is significant due to synergistic effects of radon and smoking. For this population about 62 people in a total of 1,000 will die of lung cancer compared to 7 people in a total of 1,000 for people who have never smoked. [5] It cannot be excluded that the risk of non-smokers should be primarily explained by a combination effect of radon and passive smoking.

Radon, like other known or suspected external risk factors for lung cancer, is a threat for smokers and former smokers. This was demonstrated by the European pooling study. [137] A commentary [137] to the pooling study stated: "it is not appropriate to talk simply of a risk from radon in homes. The risk is from smoking, compounded by a synergistic effect of radon for smokers. Without smoking, the effect seems to be so small as to be insignificant."

According to the European pooling study, there is a difference in risk for the histological subtypes of lung cancer and radon exposure. Small-cell lung carcinoma, which has a high correlation with smoking, have a higher risk after radon exposure. For other histological subtypes such as adenocarcinoma, the type that primarily affects non-smokers, the risk from radon appears to be lower. [137] [138]

A study of radiation from post-mastectomy radiotherapy shows that the simple models previously used to assess the combined and separate risks from radiation and smoking need to be developed. [139] This is also supported by new discussion about the calculation method, the linear no-threshold model, which routinely has been used. [140]

A study from 2001, which included 436 non-smokers and a control group of 1649 non-smokers, showed that exposure to radon increased the risk of lung cancer in non-smokers. The group that had been exposed to tobacco smoke in the home appeared to have a much higher risk, while those who were not exposed to passive smoking did not show any increased risk with increasing radon exposure. [141]

Ingestion

The effects of radon if ingested are unknown, although studies have found that its biological half-life ranges from 30–70 minutes, with 90 percent removal at 100 minutes. In 1999, the US National Research Council investigated the issue of radon in drinking water. The risk associated with ingestion was considered almost negligible. [142] Water from underground sources may contain significant amounts of radon depending on the surrounding rock and soil conditions, whereas surface sources generally do not. [143]

As well as being ingested through drinking water, radon is also released from water when temperature is increased, pressure is decreased and when water is aerated. Optimum conditions for radon release and exposure occurred during showering. Water with a radon concentration of 104 pCi/L can increase the indoor airborne radon concentration by 1 pCi/L under normal conditions. [71]

Testing and mitigation

A digital radon detector Radon detector.jpg
A digital radon detector
A radon test kit Radon test kit.jpg
A radon test kit

There are relatively simple tests for radon gas. In some countries these tests are methodically done in areas of known systematic hazards. Radon detection devices are commercially available. Digital radon detectors provide ongoing measurements giving both daily, weekly, short-term and long-term average readouts via a digital display. Short-term radon test devices used for initial screening purposes are inexpensive, in some cases free. There are important protocols for taking short-term radon tests and it is imperative that they be strictly followed. The kit includes a collector that the user hangs in the lowest habitable floor of the house for two to seven days. The user then sends the collector to a laboratory for analysis. Long term kits, taking collections for up to one year or more, are also available. An open-land test kit can test radon emissions from the land before construction begins. [5] Radon concentrations can vary daily, and accurate radon exposure estimates require long-term average radon measurements in the spaces where an individual spends a significant amount of time. [144]

Radon levels fluctuate naturally, due to factors like transient weather conditions, so an initial test might not be an accurate assessment of a home's average radon level. Radon levels are at a maximum during the coolest part of the day when pressure differentials are greatest. [71] Therefore, a high result (over 4 pCi/L) justifies repeating the test before undertaking more expensive abatement projects. Measurements between 4 and 10 pCi/L warrant a long term radon test. Measurements over 10 pCi/L warrant only another short term test so that abatement measures are not unduly delayed. Purchasers of real estate are advised to delay or decline a purchase if the seller has not successfully abated radon to 4 pCi/L or less. [5]

Because the half-life of radon is only 3.8 days, removing or isolating the source will greatly reduce the hazard within a few weeks. Another method of reducing radon levels is to modify the building's ventilation. Generally, the indoor radon concentrations increase as ventilation rates decrease. [2] In a well ventilated place, the radon concentration tends to align with outdoor values (typically 10 Bq/m3, ranging from 1 to 100 Bq/m3). [5]

The four principal ways of reducing the amount of radon accumulating in a house are: [5] [145]

According to the EPA, [5] the method to reduce radon "...primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside", which is also called sub-slab depressurization, active soil depressurization, or soil suction. Generally indoor radon can be mitigated by sub-slab depressurization and exhausting such radon-laden air to the outdoors, away from windows and other building openings. "[The] EPA generally recommends methods which prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction, for example, prevents radon from entering your home by drawing the radon from below the home and venting it through a pipe, or pipes, to the air above the home where it is quickly diluted" and the "EPA does not recommend the use of sealing alone to reduce radon because, by itself, sealing has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly or consistently". [146]

Positive-pressure ventilation systems can be combined with a heat exchanger to recover energy in the process of exchanging air with the outside, and simply exhausting basement air to the outside is not necessarily a viable solution as this can actually draw radon gas into a dwelling. Homes built on a crawl space may benefit from a radon collector installed under a "radon barrier" (a sheet of plastic that covers the crawl space). [5] [147] For crawl spaces, the EPA states "An effective method to reduce radon levels in crawl space homes involves covering the earth floor with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors. This form of soil suction is called submembrane suction, and when properly applied is the most effective way to reduce radon levels in crawl space homes." [146]

See also

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Radium and radon are important contributors to environmental radioactivity. Radon occurs naturally in the environment as a result of decay of radioactive elements in the soil and it can accumulate in houses built on areas where such decay occurs. Radon is among the major causes of cancer; it is estimated to contribute to about 2% of all cancer related deaths in Europe.

Uranium tailings are a waste byproduct (tailings) of uranium mining. In mining, raw uranium ore is brought to the surface and crushed into a fine sand. The valuable uranium-bearing minerals are then removed via heap leaching with the use of acids or bases, and the remaining radioactive sludge, called "uranium tailings", is stored in huge impoundments. A short ton (907 kg) of ore yield one to five pounds of uranium depending on the uranium content of the mineral. Uranium tailings can retain up to 85% of the ore's original radioactivity.

Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM)and Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (TENORM) consist of materials, usually industrial wastes or by-products enriched with radioactive elements found in the environment, such as uranium, thorium and potassium and any of their decay products, such as radium and radon.

Uranium tile

Uranium tiles have been used in the ceramics industry for many centuries, as uranium oxide makes an excellent ceramic glaze, and is reasonably abundant. In addition to its medical usage, radium was used in the 1920s and 1930s for making watch, clock and aircraft dials. Because it takes approximately three metric tons of uranium to extract 1 gram of Ra-226, prodigious quantities of uranium were mined to sustain this new industry. The uranium ore itself was considered a waste product and taking advantage of this newly abundant resource, the tile and pottery industry had a relatively inexpensive and abundant source of glazing material. Vibrant colors of orange, yellow, red, green, blue, black, mauve, etc. were produced, and some 25% of all houses and apartments constructed during that period [circa 1920–1940] used bathroom or kitchen tiles that had been glazed with uranium. These can now be detected by a geiger counter that detects the beta radiation emitted by uranium's decay chain. In most situations, the radiation exposure is not excessive, but there may be exceptions for pure uranium oxide on bathroom floors, which can pose a hazard for infants crawling around.

Radon-222 is the most stable isotope of radon, with a half-life of approximately 3.8 days. It is transient in the decay chain of primordial uranium-238 and is the immediate decay product of radium-226. Radon-222 was first observed in 1899, and was identified as an isotope of a new element several years later. In 1957, the name radon, formerly the name of only radon-222, became the name of the element. Owing to its gaseous nature and high radioactivity, radon-222 is one of the leading causes of lung cancer.

Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, occurring naturally as the decay product of radium. It is one of the densest substances that remains a gas under normal conditions, and is considered to be a health hazard due to its radioactivity. Its most stable isotope, 222Rn, has a half-life of 3.8 days. Due to its high radioactivity, it has been less well-studied by chemists, but a few compounds are known.

Banana equivalent dose informal measurement of ionizing radiation exposure; approximately 0.1 microsievert

Banana equivalent dose (BED) is an informal measurement of ionizing radiation exposure, intended as a general educational example to compare a dose of radioactivity to the dose one is exposed to by eating one average-sized banana. Bananas contain naturally occurring radioactive isotopes, particularly potassium-40 (40K), one of several naturally-occurring isotopes of potassium. One BED is often correlated to 10-7 sievert (0.1 μSv); however, in practice, this dose is not cumulative, as the principal radioactive component is excreted to maintain metabolic equilibrium. The BED is only meant to inform the public about the existence of very low levels of natural radioactivity within a natural food and is not a formally adopted dose measurement.

Uranium mining debate Radiological impact of uranium mining

The uranium mining debate covers the political and environmental controversies of the mining of uranium for use in either nuclear power or nuclear weapons.

The evidence indicates that of all cancer-related deaths, almost 25–30% are due to tobacco, as many as 30–35% are linked to diet, about 15–20% are due to infections, and the remaining percentage are due to other factors like ionizing radiation, stress, physical activity, environmental pollutants etc. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet's position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven.

Uranium acid mine drainage

Uranium acid mine drainage refers to acidic water released from a uranium mining site using processes like underground mining and in-situ leaching. Underground, the ores are not as reactive due to isolation from atmospheric oxygen and water. When uranium ores are mined, the ores are crushed into a powdery substance, thus increasing surface area to easily extract uranium. The ores, along with nearby rocks, may also contain sulfide. Once exposed to the atmosphere, the powdered tailings react with atmospheric oxygen and water. After uranium extraction, sulfide minerals in uranium tailings facilitates the release of uranium radionuclides into the environment, which can undergo further radioactive decay while lowering the pH of a solution.

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