From the desk of Jeff Remas, President
If you live in Pennsylvania or are thinking about it, I'm sure by now you have heard about Radon. Pennsylvania is a class 1 radon state due to it's higher than average levels of Radon gas. Everyone knows that Radon is a colorless, odorless gas, but where does it come from and what can it do to us?
It all starts with Uranium in our soil. That's right, radioactive Uranium! The Uranium eventually decays and starts to break down into Radium, another radioactive element in our soil. Both Uranium and Radium are solid and metallic. The "half-life" or the time it takes an element to lose half of its strength of Uranium is 4.5 billion years. The "half-life" of Radium is 1,620 years. So as you can see, it is going to be here for quite a long time. When the Radium in the soil starts to break down, it forms a gas as a bi-product called Radon which is what all the fuss is about. By the way, the "half-life" of Radon is only 3.82 days so it does not last very long, but it does pack a punch. Because radon is a gas, it can move about and enter homes. Pretty "geeky" stuff here so far but as long as you are still reading, I will have no choice but to continue on our little Pocono science class. Now we know that Radon loses half of its strength in about 3.82 days but as it decays the bi-product of the Radon released Alpha particles of radiation. If anyone remembers Alpha, Beta & Gamma radiation class, you will remember that the Alpha particles are the largest but slowest moving of radiation. It is these Alpha particles that enter our lungs and cause the most damage, even while we sleep.
Now I could get into more specifics about how Radon gas breaks down into the Alpha particles called the Polonium Daughters. A "Daughter" is the nuclear term for a by-product of an element. When I first heard this term I thought is was a pair of twins from New Jersey, but I was wrong of course. Anyway, it is actually the Alpha particles produced by the Radon gas that cause the damage to our lungs. Let's look into that.
The Alpha particles from the decay of Radon attach themselves to dust particles and enter the lungs. Many of these particles then attach themselves to the lining of the lungs where they decay and deliver radiation doses to different types of lung cells. The energy from the radiation can either kill the lung cell or transform it. This transformation has the potential to develop into lung cancer. Those who smoke and are exposed to lung cancer are twenty times more likely to develop lung cancer. There have been approximately twenty scientific studies from all over the world and all have indicated and increase in lung cancer due to exposure to radon. Not great information is it?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; there are an estimated 860-3,800 lung cancer deaths per year in Pennsylvania due to residential radon exposure. An estimated 40% of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above EPA's action guideline of 4 pCi/l.
Radon is measured in Pico-Curies per liter of air. A Pico-Curie is one trillionth of a Curie which is a measurement of radiation. The EPA has set a radon action level of 4 pCi/L. This means that the Agency recommends that action be taken to reduce Radon levels in homes or buildings that are found to be at or above 4 pCi/L. Radon mitigation systems range in price from $600 to $1200 and are usually guaranteed to reduce the levels to within safe ranges.
Jeff Remas, PA-DEP#2268