Radon is a radioactive, colourless, and odourless gas that is naturally found in most soils and rocks. It is part of the uranium decay series, a long line of elements that radioactively decays into the next, starting with uranium and ending in lead. The time it takes for half the number of radioactive atoms present in a given space to decay is known as the half-life of the element. Radon gas has a half-life of 3.8 days, and it decays into the Radon Decay Products Polonium-218 and Polonium-214. These Radon Decay Products are solids that release harmful ionizing radiation capable of causing cellular damage.
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Radon usually enters a structure from the soil surrounding it via cracks in the foundation, sump pumps, cracks in walls, or simply diffusing through the foundation if there is a difference in air pressure between a structure’s basement or crawlspace and the surrounding soil.
Radon can accumulate in basements and enter other parts of the structure through drafts or through HVAC systems, where it undergoes radioactive decay, turning into solid Radon Decay Products, which can stick to dust, smoke, or aerosols. When these airborne materials are inhaled, they introduce the Radon Decay Products into the lungs.
When Radon Decay Products are inhaled, the release of their harmful ionizing radiation can lead to DNA damage in the cells of the lungs, leading to lung cancer. Radon gas exposure is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer in Canada and the United States, second only to smoking; and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
It is important to note that there is no “safe” level of radon gas exposure -even at radon concentrations deemed acceptable for homes by the Environmental Protection Agency, between 2 and 7 out of every 1000 non-smokers would get lung cancer as a result of radon exposure.