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What is Radon and why is it so dangerous?


Indoor air pollution can take many different forms. Artificial contaminants such as volatile organic compounds and the dangers of cooking fuels have been discussed, as well as natural airborne contaminants such as mold and dust mites.

Another common  natural indoor air contaminant is radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can ascend from the ground into occupied buildings.

HealthMate and HealthMate Plus, like other air cleaners and purifiers, are designed to filter out harmful particles from  the air with medical grade HEPA technology. Active carbon filters add an extra layer of protection by oxidizing contaminants and removing them from the air (adsorption). Unfortunately, due to radon’s natural, inherent qualities, air purifiers  are ineffective when it comes to removing radon from indoor spaces, regardless of the brand or air purifier technology,

So, what is it about radon that keeps it from being removed from the air? We’ll take a closer look at this natural element and see why air cleaners aren’t an effective way to rid your home or office and what you can do instead.

What is radon?

The earth is abundant in radon, a noble gas produced by the decay of radium.  Radium is a trace element that has been discovered on the planet since its origin. Radium is most commonly found as a stony mineral, however it eventually decays into radon, which seldom forms compounds with other elements and rarely stays as a single gas molecule. Although radon is significantly denser than air and can concentrate in lower regions such as basements or mines, it is constantly present in trace amounts in the environment.

Why is radon so dangerous?

Even though it occurs naturally, radon is dangerous. Long-term exposure can harm your DNA, making it the second greatest cause of lung cancer behind cigarettes. In the United States, about 3,000 individuals die each year from radon poisoning. Even worse, Americans who are consistently exposed to both cigarette smoke and radon have a seven-fold increased chance of dying from cancer.

Radon is radioactive! It’s radioactivity occurs as it decays into other elements over time. As a result, radon concentrations are usually expressed in Becquerels per cubic meter of air (Bq/m3) or fractions of a Curie per liter of air (picocuries or pCi/l), which are radioactivity units (1 pCi/l = 37 Bq/m3). In open air, radon levels can range from hardly detectable over the open ocean to 100 Bq/m3 (2.5 pCi/l) in geologically active areas. These elevated levels of radon are linked to an increased risk of cancer. It’s critical to detect and control radon in indoor environments as soon as possible.

How to detect radon levels?

In 1985, a worker at a nuclear power plant tested positive for radioactive pollution exposure, which was one of the first signs that indoor radon levels could be problematic. Given that the plant was still under construction and contained no radioactive material at the time, this was perplexing. The security technicians at the nuclear power facility identified radon as the source of the radiation. When a radon atom decays, it emits a series of high-energy particles in quick succession over several days before settling as a lead atom. These particles have the potential to destroy DNA, as well as triggering the sensitive electrical components in radiation detectors.

While these detectors can detect any radioactive aerosol, radon is the only source of airborne radiation, with the exception of the rare nuclear reactor accident.

Radon detectors are relatively affordable to buy, costing between $100 and $200 on average.

How to protect your family and yourself from it ?

Unfortunately, removing radon is far more difficult than detecting it. Although activated carbon can adsorb radon to some extent, air filtration is not recommended for radon removal. Instead, organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization recommend aggressively pumping air from beneath the ground so that any radon gas is taken up and evacuated above the building.

Simply sealing the foundation is not adequate to prevent radon dangers; a mechanism must be in place to generate negative pressure, which draws gas away from the foundation before it can reach it. Only a certified specialist who installs a certified radon mitigation system can do this. If you reside in a seismically active location or just want to do everything possible to avoid radon exposure, a system that pumps air from beneath your home to the outside is the best option. 

Radon is a significant hazard to indoor air quality, but it is far from the only contaminant to be concerned about. Keep an eye on our blog and follow our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages to learn more about other contaminants that might compromise indoor air quality (as well as the science behind them). 

With science we can gain both knowledge and understanding; tools that can help us to improve the quality of our life.