What is radon and how are we exposed to it?

Что такое радон и как мы подвергаемся его воздействию?

Radon accounts for approximately half of all radiation to which a person is exposed during his life. What is radon and how are we exposed to it? Climate and environment

In everyday life we ​​constantly encounter different types of radiation. Familiar sources of radiation include microwave ovens and radios. Basically, such radiation does not cause any harm to health, but some types of radiation are dangerous. Read more about this in the material of our colleagues from the International Nuclear Energy Agency (IAEA). 

One of the potentially dangerous sources of natural radiation is radon, a radioactive gas that has no color, taste, or smell. It is released from bedrock and, passing through the ground, mixes with the air. Outdoor radon does not pose a risk to human health.

However, indoor radon is truly dangerous, and many studies confirm that even low concentrations found in homes and on workplaces, especially in regions with temperate and cold climates, are fraught with health risks.

High concentrations of radon indoors are especially dangerous because long-term exposure to risk of developing lung cancer.

The chemical elements that produce radon, such as uranium, thorium and radium, can be present in soil, water and building materials. To ensure the protection of human health, permissible concentrations of radon in homes and workplaces are regulated by IAEA safety standards.

The dangers of radon exposure?

Radon accounts for approximately half of all radiation to which a person is exposed during his life. Among the main causes of lung cancer, this gas ranks second after smoking and is the first cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. The WHO estimates that radon causes between three and 14 percent of all lung cancer cases. Depending on average indoor radon levels and the prevalence of smoking in a country, long-term exposure to radon can significantly increase health risks. The risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure is significantly higher in smokers – approximately 25 times than in non-smokers.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radon as a proven carcinogen along with tobacco smoke, asbestos and benzene. 

Что такое радон и как мы подвергаемся его воздействию?

A fairly common situation is exposure to radon in workplaces that are not necessarily underground

Radon in Water

Radon can dissolve in groundwater and accumulate in associated water sources such as springs or wells. As people perform daily activities, such as showering or washing clothes, radon contained in water can be released into the air.

Epidemiological studies have not confirmed an association between the consumption of drinking water containing radon, and an increased risk of stomach cancer. Risks associated with radon in water are primarily associated with the development of lung cancer from radon in the air.

Countries such as Kazakhstan, which have geological areas rich in uranium, are characterized by higher concentrations of radon in groundwater. However, water is generally a less significant source of radon exposure than the ground beneath buildings. 

Radon in Building Materials

Most building materials naturally emit only small amounts of radon. However, some individual materials may represent significant sources of radon. Such materials typically have both a high content of radium-226 (which decays into radon) and high porosity, allowing radon to escape. These include lightweight alumina concrete, phosphogypsum and Italian tuff. Using material from old uranium tailings (a byproduct of uranium mining) as backfill under buildings can also lead to significant indoor radon concentrations.

How We Can Reduce Radon Levels?

Various methods can be used to prevent high radon concentrations indoors. One approach is to prevent radon from entering indoor spaces through appropriate insulation combined with air pressure control. It should also not be forgotten to retrofit less modern buildings to take into account heat exchange processes, since low ventilation levels reduce overall indoor air quality and can lead to increased radon levels.

Measures protection of buildings from radon is currently already included in the building codes of many countries. Typically, this approach is less expensive than corrective actions to reduce radon concentrations. Compared to other public health interventions, this approach is often highly cost-effective.

Good ventilation in buildings is also very important and helps reduce radon concentrations.

Radon is found in most work areas for the same reason that it is found in homes. All types of workplaces can be exposed to radon contamination: offices, workshops and factories, underground tunnels and mines.

Working underground, such as in mines, tunnels and basements, often involves with radon exposure due to geological conditions or limited ventilation. In addition, a significant portion of common workplaces, such as factories, stores, schools, museums and offices, may also have high concentrations of radon due to its presence in the ground, poor ventilation or activities involving the processing of raw materials.

In geological areas rich in granitic rocks, radon levels in groundwater may be elevated. Because of this, radon concentrations may also be elevated in workplaces in water treatment plants or spas that use natural water.

If measurements indicate that radon concentrations in the workplace exceeds the standards set by the relevant government agency, the employer must take remedial/corrective measures. If such measures are ineffective or impossible, it is necessary to notify local authorities, who will determine a special regulatory procedure for such workplaces.


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