We have received a question from a reader asking what radon gas is and how does it impact on a person’s home.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas whose presence can only be detected by using specialist equipment. It is found in all rocks and soils, but concentrations vary depending on geographical location. The gas normally slowly rises to the surface of theground and is diluted in the atmosphere until it prevents no threat. However if it enters a building it can build up to concentrations which can cause harmful effects.
It is estimated that 10% of lung cancer deaths may be caused by exposure to radon gas in buildings. Due to the dangers of radon all modern buildings are constructed with a radon protective layer under the floor slab along with underground sumps for collecting the gas. These sumps are linked to a covered pipe at the side of the building to which a fan can be connected if high levels of radon are detected. When high levels are detected the fan and flue would be installed and used to suck the radon out from under the building and disposing it to the atmosphere at high level. This is necessary as radon is heavier than air.
In any case building owners should have the radon levels of their buildings checked as the building may have been constructed prior to the use of radon barriers or the installed radon barrier may not be functioning properly. As buildings become more and more insulated and sealed to conserve heat, the downside is that ventilation rates/ air changes are decreasing and any radon which enters the building will find it more difficult to leave.
I had my own home checked when I bought it and the levels were well below the National safe reference level of 200Bq/m3* for homes, the safe levels for workplaces is twice that. But it was interesting to note that radon was present in my home albeit in small concentrations. The check I had carried out cost around 60 euro and involved placing two black radon detectors in different parts of my house (bedroom and living room), for three months, and posting them back to the lab for testing. There are many companies which will send you radon test kits and I suggest you simple google ‘radon testing’ or check the phone book. More information on radon is available at http://www.rpii.ie/ along with maps indicating high risk geographical locations.
*Note: This unit of measurement (Bq/m3) means that radon is present at a concentration that emits one particle of radiation per second in a cubic metre of air.