is Radon and how does it hurt me?
Radon is a colorless, odorless,
tasteless, radioactive gas. It comes from the decay
(breakdown) of Uranium and Radium. These are radioactive
solids that exist in the soil beneath our homes. When
Radon, a radioactive gas, is produced, it rises through
the dense soil and collects to enter our homes. Radon
is an inert gas which means that the outer orbital of
the Radon atom has a full compliment of electrons and
the atom does not have a charge (unequal numbers of
negative electrons to the number of positive protons
in the same atom) which makes it non-reactive with other
elements. This allows radon to flow through most mediums
without bonding or being attracted to other atoms. It
flows unencumbered through soil and rock to enter cracks
in our floors and walls.
A characteristic of a radioactive
atom is that the unstable nucleus releases subatomic
particles in the form of radiation: Alpha, Beta, and/or
Gamma. When Radon decays, it releases all three forms
of radiation. With Radon, the dangerous one is the Alpha
radiation. Alpha radiation is two protons that fly from
the nucleus at great speed (two protons = one Alpha
particle). When the Alpha particle leaves the nucleus
a new element is formed thus starting the decay process
of Radon to the longer term stable element of Lead 210.
Along this decay process two decay products are produced
called Polonium 214 and Polonium 218 that are very dangerous.
Unlike Radon, these elements are not inert. They have
voids in their outer orbital and carry a charge. Such
atoms are called free radicals.
When Radon is drawn into the
lungs, there is a good chance that it will be exhaled
without causing any damage. When the Polonium's are
inhaled, they stick to lung tissue. When they decay,
Alpha particles are released directly into tissue. If
chromosome damage occurs, this abnormal cell can form
cancer. Among the many genes in our chromosomes is the
suicide gene, P53. This gene will cause a damaged cell
to die preventing abnormal growth. If an Alpha particle
damages this gene, an abnormal cell can survive and
continue to grow as lung cancer. This is a very rare
series of events. This is why the more concentrated
the Radon; the greater the number of hits; the higher
the probability that cancer can form.
Cigarette smoke damages the
lungs in a very similar way. A comparison has been made
between the damage of lung tissue by cigarettes to exposure
to Radon. If the exposure levels of Radon are at 11
pCi/L for 8 hours, the damage done is equivalent to
smoking a pack of cigarettes. That is a three pack a
day exposure. Radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer for
nonsmokers and second only to cigarettes for smokers.
In fact, Radon and cigarette smoke work synergistically
increasing your chances of getting lung cancer ten fold.