The 10 Best Radon Gas Test Kits
Radon: Another Silent Killer
Even the name sounds pretty sinister.
Radon was discovered well over 100 years ago by either Ernst Dorn or Ernest Rutherford, depending on whom you ask. It was initially known as radium emanation, then renamed niton after it was isolated in 1908. When researchers further explored its origin as a direct decay product of radium, it was renamed radon in 1923, by which point science was beginning to grasp the dangerous reality of ionizing radiation. It has the atomic number 86, and it's eight times heavier than air at sea level. Interestingly, it's one of the few radioactive particles in Earth's environment that isn't the result of nuclear weapon tests. It's also the second-leading cause of lung cancer, right behind tobacco smoking.
Radon itself has a half-life of only about four days. This doesn't tell the whole story, though, as it breaks down over that time into a surprising range of harmful isotopes, called daughters of radon. And these girls, dangerously radioactive compounds along the lines of decayed uranium and polonium, are not playing nice. In fact, there's real evidence of radon poisoning dating back nearly 500 years; though they didn't realize it at the time, the wasting effect recognized as mala metallorum in countless miners now appears to be acute radiation sickness due to inhalation of this nasty gas. Aside from essentially shutting down critical cell functions, these dangerous waves can cause unpredictable mutations, leading to a significantly increased cancer risk.
All in all, it's a good one to avoid, and there are different ways to help yourself and your family do so.
Where Does It Come From?
To understand radon harm prevention and mitigation, it helps to understand how the stuff got there in the first place. As noted, it's much heavier than the rest of the atmosphere, and its effects are classically tied to respiratory difficulties in underground workers. Emanating primarily from everyday rocks and soil, this rare, natural contaminant has less to do with humans polluting and more to do with the chemical makeup of the Earth itself. Breaking open the ground that normally traps this harmful substance doesn't help, of course, but the fact is that high radon levels are found in nearly every region of the country and even the world.
The first thing to remember is that it comes from the ground. This is reinforced not only by centuries of observing all miners, but especially accounts of more modern workers who specialize in extracting useful ores such as uranium. Radon, which generally coexists alongside uranium, has no problem partially sublimating and waiting around for an unsuspecting human to start breathing.
As a variety of chemicals off-gas underneath a building's foundation, they build in pressure. Over time, some of those gases seep into the structure, beginning in the lowest spaces and gradually advancing upwards through any open space they can find. Like carbon monoxide, it's one of the potential problem areas that require close attention when maintaining or overhauling HVAC systems. And because it starts down low and moves upward, it's a good idea to start testing in the basement, cellar, or at least the lowest floor of the building.
Unfortunately, there's no way to effectively neutralize the substance for good, but there are ways to make sure it isn't present in harmful levels, and if it is, there are ways to fix that.
What Do I Do About It?
For starters, a radon sensor is a great addition to smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Placed near the baseboards in a one-story home, or in the basement if there is one, many of these will sound an alarm if they detect unsafe levels. Because instantaneous readings rarely provide a complete picture, a good sensor unit has built-in memory or wireless connectivity that allows for the storage and eventual analysis of data. This way, the concerned homeowner can observe radon levels over time, and determine exactly what course of action to take. These usually operate on simple battery power, so you can place them where you're worried about gas ingress points. The more advanced electronic models detect humidity and temperature, as well, and make adjustments to their alarm thresholds based on those conditions.
A more well-known method uses a collection unit and a professional laboratory to deliver comprehensive results. These tests are single-use-only, and they're quite straightforward. After opening, simply leave the test kit exposed to air in the part of the building most likely to be inundated with radon. After a predetermined length of time, anywhere from two days to 12 months, the unit is sealed and shipped to a testing facility, where it's analyzed to provide in-depth air quality data. These somewhat more traditional routes use one of two means of analysis. Activated-carbon units can absorb nearly everything present in the atmosphere, and based on the length of the testing period, scientists can calculate the room's average radon exposure. The other method isn't quite as widespread, but is a bit more accurate, and much more high-tech. In the alpha tracking method, a hyper-sensitive polymer strip picks up a barely detectable marking from the radioactive radon gas, and technicians use finely calibrated machines to measure those markings and determine how much of the suspect molecule was floating around the air.
There are strengths and weaknesses to sample collection as well continuous electronic monitoring. A powered sensor provides minute-byr-minute feedback, but may call on the homeowner to do some mathematical legwork to determine what that data means. Chemical tests often deliver straightforward data, but they take considerably longer to achieve results, and the short-term exposure units don't always provide the most comprehensive answers. However, in the event that either of these methods shows dangerous levels, don't worry. There are numerous techniques and products available to keep levels down, and keep your home or workplace safe from this silent killer.