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The Dangers of Radon Gas and How to Test Your Home

Radon is a naturally occurring gas which can be found in rocks and soil across the country. Although the underlying geology of some parts of the country gives rise to higher levels of radon than other areas (Cornwall, for example, is well-known for having high levels of the gas), radon can be found anywhere. Radon emits radioactive particles, otherwise known as radiation. Outside, radon levels are extremely low and form part of the background radiation which is found everywhere. Although there is no lower level at which radiation is completely safe, scientific evidence suggests that background radiation has minimal impact on health and wellbeing.

Radon levels rise in buildings

Radon levels in buildings are frequently significantly higher than those found outside. Radon usually enters a building through the surfaces in contact with the ground, penetrating upwards into the rest of the property. For this reason properties with basements are particularly at risk. It is odourless, colourless and can't be detected without specialist equipment and sample analysis. Double glazed buildings or those with efficient insulation are particularly vulnerable to high levels of radon, as air doesn't circulate as efficiently as in a draughtier property. Exposure to radon results in radioactive particles being inhaled, significantly increasing the risk of lung cancer in later life. The risk rises with the level of exposure, so the longer an individual spends in a high radon environment, the greater their risk of adverse effects.

Smokers are particularly at risk

The most worrying increase in lung cancer risk comes for smokers and ex-smokers. Studies suggest that the risk of developing lung cancer if you smoke and are also exposed to high levels of radon is around 25 times higher than non-smokers who are exposed to radon alone. The research on ex-smokers is less clear, but still indicates that there is an enhanced risk from radon compared with those who have never smoked. It is currently thought that around 1,100 cases of lung cancer a year are due to radon exposure.

Get tested!

The government publishes maps which predicts which areas are most likely to be affected by elevated radon levels. . Public Health England also provides a searchable database where, for a small charge, individuals can get a postcode-specific risk estimate. Both the maps and the postcode specific search are based on estimates and data extrapolation and neither can tell you whether a particular property will or will not be affected by high levels of radon. Geological quirks and individual building and occupation variations can mean that one home has an unacceptably high level of radon, while the property next door has a low level. Unacceptably high radon levels can also occur in areas where the overall radon levels are low, due to unusual geological circumstances. Testing is the only accurate way of quantifying radon levels.

Three month test most reliable

Although tests which only take a few days are available, they only give a snapshot of radon levels. While they can be helpful in identifying extremely high levels of radon or to give an indication as to whether there is likely to be a problem, it's important to remember that radon levels can vary enormously over time. To obtain an accurate picture, it's best to use a three month test. The test consists of two small discs. One is placed in a ground floor room, the other upstairs. After three months the discs are sent for analysis, which gives the average reading for a property.

Image of Radon Detector

The 3 month passive Radon detector shown above can be ordered from Properteco.co.uk.

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