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Radon gas is the second most common cause of lung cancer in the world, causing over 40,000 deaths from the disease every year. The gas is common in the United Kingdom and across the world.
Radon gas is an odourless, colourless and tasteless gas that is a by-product of the natural decay of uranium in the ground. Radon rises to the earth’s surface and harmlessly disperses into the atmosphere – unless there’s a building in the way. If there’s an enclosed structure in the radon’s path, the radon enters it through the soil and begins to accumulate inside. Having a cement floor in the basement can reduce radon gas infiltration, but only if the floor is solid, non-porous and crack-free.
Radon gas is most dangerous to your lungs, but the danger is not simply through breathing it in. Radon is not absorbed by the body: radon decays into smaller particles over time, releasing ionising radiation as it does so. These particles, called radon “progeny”, can attach themselves to airborne dust due to their electrical charge. When this radioactive dust is inhaled, the dust may remain in the lungs for long periods of time, especially in people with breathing problems such as asthma. Delicate lung tissues are thus exposed to the radon progeny decomposing, releasing bursts of ionising radiation.
The American state of Pennsylvania is a high-risk area for the presence of radon; in one Pennsylvania home, a team from Upstate New York set up the house’s air system to create overpressure conditions in its basement. The air handler was kept running continuously on low speed: the effect was that the upstairs living area was depressurised, while the basement was over-pressurised, causing the contaminated air in the basement to be forced out through nooks and crannies. Sure enough, by the end of the experiment, the risks from radon had been minimalised.
Our systems work in a similar way – by regularly changing the air in your home, the contaminated air is moved on and away from you and your family, averting the risks associated with radon gas.
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