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The unknown thing that everyone knows about


Radon is a radioactive gas that causes 1,100 deaths a year in the UK, yet it’s largely unknown.

Unknown in the sense that the government prints maps of areas that might be at risk, runs a testing service for your house, companies manufacture and sell the solution (essentially, a fan to ventilate the basement) and all of this has been going on for decades.

That sort of unknown.

22 thoughts on “The unknown thing that everyone knows about”

  1. So Much For Subtlety

    Radon produces radioactive dust in the air, which can damage lung tissue.

    A dust in the air, huh? Which damages lung tissue does it? What they mean is that no one who reads the Guardian have heard of it. After all, they did Arts subjects.

    Yet another Qango seeking self-aggradisement. No surprise there.

    Low doses of radon are probably good for you. In some parts of the world people pay to breath high concentrations.

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    I am not sure who these people are, but I would not leap to assume the Guardian’s rubbish claims are anything but rubbish:

    The relationship between average indoor levels of radon and lung cancer mortality in the counties of Cornwall and Devon, England, are investigated. The associations of population density, social-class distribution, and regional smoking prevalence with lung cancer mortality in the local-authority districts of England and Wales were estimated by regression analysis. Low rates of lung cancer in Cornwall and Devon were predicted from the relationship. The differences between observed and predicted mortality in Cornwall and Devon districts were compared with average indoor levels of radon, which varied considerably between districts. Residual variations in lung cancer mortality were not significantly correlated with average indoor radon measurements. The current advice of the National Radiological Protection Board to government is to concentrate radon measurements, remedial action, and preventive action principally on Cornwall and Devon, but cross-sectional geographical data do not support the hypothesis that raised levels of radon indoors in southwest England have an important effect on lung cancer mortality.

    GIGO – Garbage In, Guardian Out

  3. So Much For Subtlety

    Arnald – “The most important action anyone can take to reduce their risk of lung cancer is to stop smoking.”

    Or as someone else might put it, the most important action anyone can take to increase their risk of dementia is to stop smoking. We all got to go. Not all paths are equal though.

    Widdershins – “Radon should be legalised, regulated and taxed…”

    When granite is outlawed, only outlaws will have granite counter tops? I think we should encourage the Guardian to campaign for a complete ban on the use of granite surfaces in the kitchen. After all, even a minute dose is still too large. Can we afford to take the risk?

    I think we need to designate November 10 International Ban Granite Counter Tops Day.

  4. ‘Radon is a radioactive gas that causes 1,100 deaths a year in the UK’

    Produce the death certificates, or even a list of names, or STFU.

  5. Anecdata. And aged anecdata as well.

    While one of HM submarines was in dock and one of the things been done was reactor compartment cleans (the process for which involved being given a electrostatic dosimeter and working until you reached your monthly indicative dose), the First Lt (who was never seen aft and certainly didn’t take part in cleaning, especially not around the reactor) forgot to hand his standard thermoluminescent dosimeter back in when he went home for a long weekend.

    He lived in Devon.

    A month or so later, there was quite a bit of a fuss because he had exceeded his monthly safety dose limit (less than the formal safety dose limit, because the MoD wanted to limit the number of “classified radiation workers” it created.) The formal investigation quickly discovered that he hadn’t been anywhere on the sub or in the base where he might have been exposed quite so significantly. He admitted that he might not have remembered or bothered to hand in his TLD.

    The Plymouth investigation team went to visit Mrs First Lt and there was a fairly rapid installation of forced ventilation in the crawl space under his house.

  6. Ah well…. The Guardian pumping up the already overinflated self regard of Public EElf England – who been bumped out of the NHS by actual clinicians….

    I saw this and had a dig around and came up with The Radon Therapy Centre in Austria – I’d bet that any reference to the place will vaporise instantly in Guardian comments

    There’s even an epidemiological study, unexpectedly showing decreased cancer risk vs. radon domestic exposure referenced in Wikipedia – I thought the Guardian lurved alternative medecine …snork

  7. A while back, a friend mentioned that he was fixin’ to buy a load of used pipe, for fenceposts. This being oil country, I grabbed a Geiger counter and went with him to inspect it.

    Sure enough, it was hot as hell and you don’t want to get stuck with a load of hot pipe. People are very aware of Radon round here – even the scrapyards have Geiger counters and check each load before allowing it to be offloaded.

  8. Bloke in North Dorset

    But what about 3rd hand Radon? All those people with granite kitchen work surfaces walking round with with Radon on their clothes are a risk to the rest of us and must be ostracised to special zone in restaurants, pubs and offices. And they must not be allowed in to cars with their children.

  9. @SMFS “After all, even a minute dose is still too large. Can we afford to take the risk?”

    On the contrary, everyone should get granite counter-tops. As we know to be absolute scientific fact, small doses of something bad are actually a very effective cure. Although you may need to get Granite baths instead of counter-tops – there was some waffle about water memory…

  10. Bloke in Costa Rica

    Of course it’s not primarily radon per se that is dangerous. It’s radon daughters. Radon is a noble gas and essentially unreactive. You breathe it in, you breathe it out (mostly). It has a short half-life (the most stable isotope, ²²²Rn is 3.8 days). It decays via a fairly lengthy chain involving lead, polonium and bismuth. The daughter products are ionised when the radon decays, so they are sticky. They adhere to dust particles and those do tend to hang around in your lungs. As radon enters the environment (from decay of uranium via thorium) and daughter products move down the decay chain, it reaches an equilibrium. By removing radon before it decays, the equilibrium concentration is lowered.

  11. So Much For Subtlety

    Surreptitious Evil – “Anecdata. And aged anecdata as well.”

    The fear of domestic radon was started by Stanley Watras when he went to work back in the 1980s and set off the radiation alarms. He worked in a nuclear power plant.

    Rational Anarchist – “On the contrary, everyone should get granite counter-tops. As we know to be absolute scientific fact, small doses of something bad are actually a very effective cure. Although you may need to get Granite baths instead of counter-tops – there was some waffle about water memory…”

    That sort of neo-liberal thinking will be banned in the new Courageous State. But you may have a point about the baths. There are numerous places where you can take a radon cure, and some of them are baths:

    Radioactive water baths have been applied since 1906 in Jáchymov, Czech Republic, but even before radon discovery they were used in Bad Gastein, Austria. Radium-rich springs are also used in traditional Japanese onsen in Misasa, Tottori Prefecture. Drinking therapy is applied in Bad Brambach, Germany. Inhalation therapy is carried out in Gasteiner-Heilstollen, Austria, in Kowary, Poland and in Boulder, Montana, United States. In the United States and Europe there are several “radon spas,” where people sit for minutes or hours in a high-radon atmosphere in the belief that low doses of radiation will invigorate or energize them.

    Radon baths have a measurable positive effect on arthritis for instance. Still. The Czech Republic. Austria. Japan. Any volunteers in or near those places willing to give it a try? We used to have a Bloke in Japan, and we still have a Bloke who used to be in Austria. How far is TW from Jáchymov (or as I would call it, Joachimsthal in southern Germany)?

    Bloke in Costa Rica – “Of course it’s not primarily radon per se that is dangerous.”

    Facts? This is the Guardian. We don’t need no stinking facts here.

  12. @SMFS

    I’m still here, but as I know nothing of accountancy and even less about economics, I tend to keep fairly quiet. Tottori is about two days drive from where I live (Tohoku), so I won’t be testing the waters any time soon.

    There are heaps of onsens around here as we are surrounded by volcanos. They all have a chart on display with an analysis of the water. I don’t pay much attention and haven’t checked for radon, but I’m sure there’s some.

    There’s a bloody lovely public onsen about 20 minutes drive from me. It’s set high on a hill with an outdoor bath and a view (if its not snowing) of the mountains. I use it a lot in the winter as I average 2-3 hours moving snow per day, and it helps my backache a treat.

  13. Is the current Radon scare an example of the laws on unintended circumstances. We needed to insulate our houses and make them airtight to appease Gaia, and this allowed Radon levels to build up.

  14. What Gunker said.

    I bet a nice big drafty old Edwardian Rectory wouldn’t have any
    Radon problems at all, even in Cornwall.

    Just keep the Aga stoked up, and throw another dog on the bed at night.

  15. Radon is very heavy, and unless you have a draught in your cellar, it will tend to increase in concentration. Then the daughters build up.

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