Symptoms of radon poisoning

While radon is a naturally occurring gas in Earth's atmosphere, studies have shown that radon inhalation is a leading cause of lung cancer. Radon can accumulate in buildings for a variety of reasons, and while simple tests can be done to detect the level of radon in homes and buildings, being aware of the symptoms of radon poisoning is essential to protecting yourself and your family.

Identifiying Radon Poisoning

Radon poisoning occurs when areas without adequate ventilation build up high amounts of radon gas. This can occur in underground mines, basements and in homes or buildings. Radon, like all other radioactive elements or gases, decays over a period of time, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When these particles are inhaled, they can damage the DNA in the cells of the lungs, resulting in lung cancer.

The symptoms of radon poisoning closely resemble lung cancer: a persistent cough that doesn't get better, coughing up blood, difficulty breathing, chest pains, wheezy breathing, hoarseness and recurring bouts of respiratory infections such as pneumonia or bronchitis. In many cases, excessive exposure to radon can develop into lung cancer. Therefore, it is extremely important that you seek medical help as soon as possible if you begin to experience these warning symptoms.

Radon Characteristics

Radon is a radioactive gas that is formed from the natural decay of radium present in the Earth's crust. Radon is colourless, odourless and tasteless. It belongs to the group of noble gases, including helium, neon, argon and xenon, which are all characterised by their low level of chemical reactivity.

Significance of Radon Poisoning

Although scientists were aware that radon exposure caused lung cancer, the high levels of radon that can accumulate in homes and buildings wasn't discovered until 1984 when the basement of a home in Pennsylvania was found to have radon levels so extreme that the owner of the house was setting off radiation alarms at the nuclear power plant where he worked.

Since then, researchers have estimated that at least 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually in the United States are because of radon. It is second only to cigarette smoking as a leading cause of lung cancer.

Preventing Radon Poisoning

Any home, old or new, can have a problem with radon gas build-up. There are several things that experts believe can cause excessive radon accumulation; these include radon gas released from the soil beneath and around buildings and ground or well water--surface water does not contain enough radon to be significant.

Homeowners (as well as owners of businesses, churches and schools) are advised to use inexpensive radon test kits to determine the amount of radon present in the building. In addition, installing a soil-suction radon-reduction system and sealing foundation cracks, cracks in walls and floors and the gaps around service pipes can greatly reduce radon levels.

History of Radon

Radon was discovered in 1900 by the German physicist Fredrich Ernst Dorn, when he discovered that the radioactive element radium releases radon gas as it decays. Radon was later successfully isolated and determined to be the heaviest-known gas in 1910 by Sir William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray.

Radon was not considered to have a detrimental effect on human health until the late 1950s, when uranium miners in mines with high concentrations of radon began to show unusually high rates of lung cancer.

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About the Author

Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.