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What is radon?

This silent killer has a name and invades your life.

By: Julia Wiegand



It’s found in your homes, workplaces, soil and water…not to mention, the air you breathe.

“We are exposed to radiation from all kinds of sources but radon, as it turns out, is more than 50%, almost 70%, of the radon, the actual exposure the average citizen gets is from radon. It’s a silent killer,” says Professor Sean Cornell of the Geography and Earth Science department. Cornell focuses on rock and mineral resources and their impact on human and environmental health as a field scientist.

more-radon-stuff“Here I have a sample of graphite. What we don’t think about is what is in all natural rock materials. They’re made up of minerals, and those minerals are made up of various elements. Some of those elements of course are radioactive…and what that means is that they emit high energy particles. By emitting that energy, electromagnetic energy, those materials change composition. Basically, these elements that make up that mineral begin to decay…because they’re unstable and there’s all this energy in there. Radium, which is a precursor to radon, is released out of these particles and some of that will go from one grain into another grain, some of it will go into groundwater and the pour spaces, some of it will go into the air as it moves all the way up through the rock and soil.”

Radon is two sides of the same coin. Its half-life of three point eight days is the second leading cause of cutting someone’s life in half…causing lung cancer in the long term. Experts estimate about 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year are radon related, right behind cigarette smoke.

“And we know that radiation interferes with our cells and their cell function. It can kill the cell outright…that’s not good. It can cause the cell to mutate and start generating cancer…not good. It can also interfere with DNA and RNA so that when our cells begin to divide, especially in the production of gametes that will eventually become our children, those mutations can sometimes cause lethal or even sub-lethal but significant malformation and metabolic changes. So it’s no joke.”

Without regulation and enforcement from local, state and federal governments, who’s going to ensure people hear about it, become educated AND take action?

“Why do we not hear about it very much…it’s really sad. The reality is that scientists have been talking about it for a really long time.”

For more information on radon, visit the Department of Environmental Protection’s website.

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