Radon : The Silent Killer

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| 2018 Jan 18 |
Radon : The Silent Killer

Student : Debora Owutsu
University : University of Toronto

According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, “Radon is the chemical element of atomic number 86, a rare radioactive gas belonging to the noble gas series”. Naturally occurring, radon can be found in soil/rock and is decay product of uranium. This means that a uranium particle radioactively decays to the point where it completely changes its structure, making it a different element. Also, in being a decay product of radium, radon is found frequently in nature. It can seep through the ground until it becomes a part of an atmosphere or, trapped in an environment where it cannot leave. This essay will use examples from case studies, scientific definitions and historical case points to explore the toxic effects of radon and to discuss some preventative measures that can be taken to contain levels of radon in households.

First, one of the most common places where radon cultivates is in a house. Once radon enters a home it often ceases to die. This can pose a large threat as exposure to radon in a 1974 study by California Sates University, states that prolonged exposure to radon in humans can cause lung cancer . One of the main reasons why people cannot easily detect the levels of radon is it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless making it impossible to detect without a Radon Test Kit.

As a preventative measure, in 2014 three major radon awareness events were held in New Jersey and Alabama. All three of the events in New Jersey focused mainly on reaching out to Americans to protect them from the feasible threat. These events were supported by policy makers and heavily advertised through social media in order to generate high citizen participation.
One of those events held in Huntsville, Alabama, was held inside a remodeling show. This was deliberate done in hopes to recommend building changes to the residential developers.

It gave awareness to participants on how to find their current home’s radon levels and how to find the radon level of a house they intended to purchase.

Next, another reason why radon is dangerous is because radon was unregulated until the 1950’s. Radon being present in the earth’s crust for billions of years, is produced by the natural disintegration of radium, which is a lustrous, white radioactive element produced by the decay of uranium, and sometimes found in rock or bedrock. Before radon was discovered to be hazardous to human health, homes in the American West were sometimes built with materials contaminated by the radium from uranium mines.
As stated by, a 2015 University of Toronto study, radon decays rather quickly with a life span of 3.8 days . Through this process, radon gives of tiny radioactive particles. If radon enters inside a person’s lungs, it then damages lung tissue and cells. Eventually radon can decay to polonium, a radioactive metal with the atomic number 84 . This can lead to even more lung damage and eventually a tumor. A lung tumor is usually cancerous and without treatment can lead to more severe effects. Lung cancer is the result of uncontrolled division of these abnormal affected cells. If not detected early, it leaves victims with permanent damage to their lungs.
Some other places other than the home that are found to have high radon levels are spas, cancer therapy, phosphate fertilizers, jewelry made more than 80 years ago.

Thirdly, the reason why radon levels are not easily detectable is because the only effective way of testing radon is with the use of a Radon Test Kit. Radon can only be measured by a Radon Test Kit which is sold by multiple companies. Some of these companies include Kidde, Air Chek, Accustar, First Alert, Pro Lab and many more. Radon test kits tend to be charcoal activated where modern Radon Test Kits can be activated by gas levels. When finished with a radon test, it is sent away to lab. There, the charcoal or gas is examined to find the pC/L (Picocuries per liter) of radon in the charcoal. After receiving the radon level results, citizens then can make the decision to install a radon mitigation system. Before a radon system is installed inside a home the company first seals all cracks in the lowest level floor. This is very significant because it makes it so that the radon is forced to go through the system. Once a radon mitigation system is installed it filters radon out of the air through a fan and expelled into the atmosphere and out of the house.

Health Canada recommends that testing be done at work or home by the installation of a mitigation system. The mitigation process is similar to the have fire extinguishers and smoke alarms systems installed on hand. testing for radon is cheap and easy by a mitigation system.
Local governments also play an important role for instance, Health Canada has set up a program in facilitating the cleanup and redevelopment of properties contaminated by hazardous substances. In particular, by acquiring contaminated properties, local governments have an opportunity to evaluate and assess public safety needs and promote redevelopment projects that will protect and improve the health, environment, and economic well-being of their communities.

In addition, under the OSH Act, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace. OSHA’s mission is to assure safe and healthful workplaces by setting and enforcing standards, and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance. Employers must comply with all applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also comply with the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to keep their workplace free of serious recognized hazards. Radon exposure is most common in homes.

In sum, it is very important for workplaces, local governments and homeowners to be informed about the toxic effects of radon because radon is a carcinogen that causes lung cancer when exposed too much or for too long. Information sessions, marketing and advertising of radon test kits should continue to increase as the average person knows very little about the effects of radon exposure.

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Canada, and Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Radon: a guide for Canadian homeowners. Ottawa: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp, 1997.
Groves-Kirkby, C. J., A. R. Denman, P. S. Phillips, R. G. M. Crockett, A. C. Woolridge, and R. Tornberg. 2006. “Radon Mitigation in Domestic Properties and its Health implications—a Comparison between during-Construction and Post-Construction Radon Reduction.” Environment International 32 (4): 435-443. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2005.10.004.
Isai, Vjosa. “Why You Should get a Radon Test Kit.” The Toronto Star, Nov 6, 2017. Retrieved from:
Sancton, Andrew. Canadian Local Government: An Urban Perspective. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Slack, Enid and Richard M. Bird. ” Radon and cancer: questions and answers ” Policy Options 12, no.2 (2007):72–77.

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