Lung cancer has the highest mortality rate among cancer types. Even with promising responses to treatment, a lot of patients have had a relapse in the first two years, according to a study on Residential Radon.
Breathing in high levels of radon is one of the leading causes. An estimate by the US Environmental Protection Agency shows that radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths yearly. It’s the leading cause for non-smokers, and smokers who are also exposed to radon would have a much higher risk.
But how does it get to a person’s lungs and affect their health?
Radon is Linked to Lung Cancer
Radon emits alpha-ionising radiation which has cytotoxic (cell damaging) and genotoxic (DNA damaging) effects. Because of this, radon has been included in the environmental carcinogens recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).
From the radioactive decay chain of uranium-238 found in soil and rocks, radon gas can seep into buildings through wall and foundation cracks, gaps around pipes, and other openings. Once radon enters a building, it can accumulate to higher concentrations, especially in enclosed spaces like basements.
People living in the building can inhale the decay products of radon, such as polonium-218 and polonium-214, which are solid particles. These particles can attach to the lining of the lungs, where they can potentially damage lung tissue.
Radon Can Build Up in Any Structure
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM). It exists in the environment and can accumulate in any building – workplaces, homes, and schools. However, there are just some places in the world that are more radon-prone, like the US. According to EPA’s Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon, almost one in 15 US homes has radon concentrations above the recommended levels.
Meanwhile in Norway, there are large occurrences of bedrock and highly permeable unconsolidated sediments. All buildings in this country are regulated to have radon levels within the action limit of 100 Bq/m³ or 1.15 mSv/year.
Without specialised testing, radon is imperceptible. It’s colourless and odourless so it’s recommended to test your home for radon levels, especially if your location is prone to it. Take appropriate measures like ventilation if elevated levels are detected.
Reducing Radon Levels
Sealing cracks on walls and floors is one common way of radon reduction. It limits the flow of radon into the building. However it’s not recommended to do sealing alone since it can’t reduce radon levels significantly.
Installing a vent pipe system and fan is another step. The ventilation and suction will prevent radon gas from building up in high concentrations.
Natural ventilation like opening windows and doors can also result in lower radon levels.
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