Radon in homes

Yes, various parts of the country do indeed get radon building up in the basement as a result of the radioactive decay of uranium (umm, U to radium, radium to radon maybe?) naturally present in the soil.

Yes, it\’s easily dealt with by simply pumping it out into the atmosphere…..ie, diluting it.

Radon is measured in Becquerels per cubic metre of air. The average radon level in homes across the UK is 20 Bq per cubic metre.

The HPA recommends that householders should contact their local authority if they experience radon levels with a reading over 200Bq per cubic metre.

The important bit about this is that we\’ve now got a useful measure of how much radioactivity is something we might worry about and how much we might not.

For example, if some Greenpeacer starts wibbling about 40Bq per cubic metre then we can reject it as wibble. However, if some FoE\’er starts shouting about 400Bq then we should at least take their concerns seriously.

Useful rule of thumb really…..

14 comments on “Radon in homes

  1. I read that if homes were very well insulated, the radon levels would be higher than otherwise.

    Separately I read that we’ve got to greatly improve insulation in our homes to reduce energy consumption and thereby CO emissions etc.

    So my half-tongue-in-cheek question is, will insulation improvements increase the risk of dying of lung cancer?

  2. That’s 200Bq/m2 for 7,000 HOURS PER YEAR, for five years, remember. Do people spend that long in their basements?

  3. Actually the important bit is why a publicly funded body and its (fake?) charity partner should suddenly decide to release scary stories about a problem which has been well understood for decades. A problem for which the solution (good ventilation) has been known for almost as long and for which building codes in the affected areas have been amended.

    Could it be the Health Protection Agency and Cancer Research UK fear their budgets will be slashed and feel a little scare mongering might help their pleading for exemption?

    By the way I loved CRUK’s contribution about radon being the No2 cause of lung cancer in the UK. If we take their number of 40,000 lung cancer diagnoses per annum as gospel, and, if we accept the HPA’s assesment that 200,000 households being at risk from radon, do we know how many lung cancer diagnoses are radon related? We’re not told, but a bit of maths leads me to think that less than 500 of those 40,000 new lung cancer cases discovered each year can be attributed to radon.

    That’s obviously a concern for the people concerned, but hardly a pandemic of Black Death proportions. I’d have also thought that any agency which can only muster such a pathetic argument agains having its budget cut probably deserves abolition.

  4. However what you will not see is the results of the numerous investigations made into the statistical effect of radon. Such studies have been redone repeatedly because they keep coming up with the “wrong” answer. Repeatedly they have shown a NEGATIVE correlation between radioactive radon and cancer. Professor Bernard Cohen, in the largest study, found a negative correlation roughly half as strong as the positive correlation with smoking.

    This is part of a large body of evidence that low level radiation is beneficial to health (a process known as hormesis). In these terms “low level” means many up to 17 times the official danger rate (this being the natural background radiation level in Kerala India) or anything found outside the reactor building in Chernobyl.

    Evidence for radiation hormesis is collected here http://a-place-to-stand.blogspot.com/2010/03/low-level-radiation-evidence-that-it-is.html

    There is no evidence whatsoever for the offical theory that there is a linear realtionship to damage with no lower threshold (LNT). This was the first major “scientific consensus” imposed by government bureaucrats. By stifling the nuclear industry and thus preventing humanity having virtually unlimited inexpensive power it has done far more damage than the catasrophic warming scam.

  5. Quite right, it is not the insulation that keeps radon inside the house, it’s the (lack of) ventilation. This is one of the things where the new regulations on energy saving – which are becoming stricter in many countries, and are necessitating slower turnaround times for changing the air in rooms – are on a collision course with essential health and safety issues.

    Radon is heavier than air. Therefore, just ventilation of the rooms themselves may not enough to keep radon levels low, particularly in cellars or basement floors. What you need to do is keep radon from coming in at all.

    Britain has very, very little radon compared to other areas in Europe: according to a source I found, the average radioation level in England is 20 Bq/m3 in room air. In Germany it is 50 Bq/m3, in France, 66 Bq/m3, Sweden 108 Bq/m3, Finland 123 Bq/m3. Where I live, the figure can rise up to 10 000 Bq/m3 in the cellar of a detached house, if you do not do anything to prevent it. Of course, even this still kills you only statistically, but it starts to be a meaningful threat, second only to smoking as the cause for lung cancer. People who are worried about nuclear plants are not quite aware that they are breathing natural nuclear waste all the time. Even mining a train tunnel (public transport is good!) produces significant amounts of uranium-rich rock waste (nuclear is bad!). And this rock is then used in construction, and it releases radon.

    When you build a house here, the health officials advise you to ask for measurements (inspecting the ground at the building site before starting) to prepare to protect against radon if necessary. The measurement cost was something like 250 € when I built my house 7 years ago. Funnily enough, building the protection against radon costs about the same. So you can as well just build the protection, and not bother to measure whether it was necessary.

    The problem is relevant in houses where there is no free circulation of air between the floor and the ground (i.e. the concrete floor lies on top of an insulation layer, on the ground). This is typical at least in houses that have cellars or basements.

    What you do here to protect yourself from radon is that underneath your house, beneath the concrete slab that is called floor, you have a layer of gravel (which lets water or air pass through – you have it there anyway, to have solid ground under your house that does not soak your floor in water). Inside this gravel, you put loops of 110 mm plastic drainpipe (the kind that has holes, allowing water/gases flow from the ground to the pipe), and connect it to a 110 mm plastic sewer pipe (airtight) that you take through the rooms to the ceiling of the house. The air with a significant radon content moves from the gravel to the drainpipe, and from drainpipe up through the sewer pipe, due to heat difference and chimney effect, and disperses in the atmosphere, and is replaced by fresh air that shifts in through the ground.

    For England, I’d say radon is probably not going to be a priority problem even if you have insufficient ventilation. The other problems you get in a house will be more significant (mildew and fungi in the air, causing allergic reactions).

  6. “The HPA recommends that householders should contact their local authority if they experience radon levels with a reading over 200Bq per cubic metre.”

    And how the hell is the housholder meant to finf this out? Most of us lack the equipment and the know how to intrpret readings corrctly even if we had.

    Do I smell a whiff of corporatism here? (Much more prevalent and easier to detect than radon. Probably kills alot more people too.)Perhaps someone is pushing to get this included on the home energy certificates or something similar.

  7. My guess, given the government’s (sensible) Push To Nuclear, is that this is pretty much exactly what Tim’s suggesting, and will be used in planning inquiries etc to show that 50Bq/m^3 is totally safe and not worth NIMBY-ing over.

  8. Urianium → Thorium → Protactinium → Uranium → Thorium → Radium → Radon, to be more precise, Tim (α, β, β, α, α, α).

    /pendant mode off

    The linear, no threshold bollocks is one of the bigger public health scandals in decades. If the lights go out and people are dying we could usefully illuminate and heat things by burning Greens at the stake. Start with that reeking bell-end Huhne.

  9. What you need to do is keep radon from coming in at all.

    How do you do that when the chuffing walls of many houses are made of the very granite from whence the radon comes? And if the walls aren’t granite, then the bloody rockery just outside the window certainly is. So are the rocks around the reservoir and pipes that are the source of all the water these people drink and that take away all their crap and pee.

    You can’t make a house airtight. At least not o=if you want it to be habitable.

  10. I work in radon mitigation and I am amazed at some peoples capacity for denial. There is a huge international concensus on the implications of high radon exposure and the empirical evidence is very clear, it is the second highest cause of lung cancer after smoking. Then again I still come across people who believe smoking and lung cancer is a conspiracy
    What can you do?
    The radon level in your property [ which can be easily measured with a simple detector pack from available from the Health Protection Agency] is affected by three major factors
    1: where its built
    2: how its built
    3: how you live in it
    If you live in a radon risk area your levels are likely to be higher. If you have a suspended floor over bare earth your levels are likely to be higher. If you live in a well insulated house with a significant temperature difference between inside and outside your radon levels are likely to be higher. The only way to know for sure is to carry out a recognised radon test from a recognised laboratory, then you can make an informed decision as to what to do next.

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  12. There is a hugh disparity between 40 and 400..there is something seriously wrong with that! I would decrease that 400..it’s totally obvious..but hey who cares?

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