National Radon Action Month is held every January to increase the population’s awareness about radon — a radioactive gas that is colorless, odorless, and found across many homes in the U.S. This month also serves as a mouthpiece of sorts to promote radon testing and mitigation activities and promote the use of radon-resistant practices. Note, this event is not to be confused with another observation — the Radon Action Week — which is held in the third week of October. This special holiday seeks to educate and inform individuals about radioactive gas and its effects on health. Read on to discover tips to help keep you healthy!
History of National Radon Action Month
In 1899, two scientists at McGill University in Montreal found a radioactive element, the fifth one after uranium, thorium, radium, and polonium. Marie and Pierre Curie saw that this element would emit a gas that remained ‘active’ for a whole month. The very next year, German physicist and professor Friedrich Dorn was studying radium when he noticed it was emitting a radioactive gas, which he called ‘radium emanation’. Similar emanations were later seen from other radioactive elements, and this is how the world discovered radon.
There were many iterations of the name itself until the gas finally became radon in 1923. Soon, people realized that this gas was naturally occurring — it appeared when uranium in the soil decayed, and could technically be everywhere. However, knowledge about the dangers of radon preceded the discovery of this gas. The Swiss physician, Paracelsus, wrote about a wasting disease that afflicted miners in 1530, and Georg Agricola, a German scholar, and scientist, even recommended ventilation in mines to avoid what was then known as ‘mountain sickness’.
Because of the mining work at uranium sites, miners were the ones most affected by this gas. The very first studies linking radon and health problems were based on uranium mining in the Joachimsthal (or Jáchymov) region of Bohemia, located in what we now call the Czech Republic. By the 1950s, studies showed radon gas presence inside houses all over, including American homes. While miners were continuously working in uranium mines, standards were only implemented after 1971 in the U.S., during which time research was also being conducted into why radon occurred inside homes and how best to reduce its ill effects.
Radon and its subsequent health effects came under public scrutiny after an incident in 1984. A construction engineer at a Pennsylvania nuclear power plant was contaminated with radioactivity even though the reactor inside the plant had never even been fueled. Further research showed his home has a high quantity of radon gas. Now, the scientific world knew radon gas could cause serious problems, and they increased their efforts to solve this issue. Today, efforts include educating the general public about this gas and its effects and how they can protect themselves from harm.
National Radon Action Month timeline
The International Committee for Chemical Elements and International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (I.U.P.A.C.) name the element (and later, the isotope), ‘radon.’
Entrepreneurs open and invite the public to uranium mines, and state that breathing in radon gas has several health benefits — the claims are proven to be false, and the U.S. government bans such advertisements completely.
A North American study and a European study both show a link between radon exposure and occurrences of lung cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) initiates a three-year project to check residential radon levels around the world, create a database for this and resource help, and even create a public health guidance system.
National Radon Action Month FAQs
What causes radon in a house?
Radon is a byproduct of uranium decay, which is found in nearly all types of soil. This gas then moves up through the ground and finds its way into structures via cracks and other holes in the foundation. Radon is then trapped inside the structure, where it gradually builds up over time, increasing radon levels and causing unsafe levels of radon exposure.
Is it okay to live in a house with radon?
Yes, you can stay in a house with radon; however, the E.P.A recommends an approved radon reduction system to be put in place.
Does opening windows reduce radon?
Increasing air circulation by opening windows and doors will ultimately reduce radon levels inside a structure. Radon is then diluted with the cleaner outdoor air.
How to Observe National Radon Action Month
Test your home for radon
The Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) recommends everyone across the U.S. should test their homes for this radioactive gas. Doing so is pretty easy; the testing kits can be found in many retail stores, and you can even ask a professional (a home inspector) to test for radon. If radon is detected in your house, follow recommended steps to fix this issue in time.
Spread awareness of this month
Multiple governmental websites have a host of information about radon, its effects, and what you can do to protect yourself. Use these materials to share knowledge and spread awareness of radon among your friends and family.
Attend an official radon awareness event
Multiple official organizations plan National Radon Action Month events. Look for one in your area and community, and make sure to attend it.
5 Interesting Facts About Radon
Radon gas is in all 50 states
The E.P.A. estimates that one in 15 houses has elevated (read: unsafe) radon levels.
Test homes for radon in winter
Since doors and windows are sealed, the radon gas will be trapped inside, increasing the levels, and letting you know if your home is safe or unsafe.
Radon levels are higher in basements
Since places like basements and cellars are closer to the ground, radon concentration is higher there; the gas can travel higher and vertically too, however, and can be found at varying levels throughout built structures.
Radon levels also depend on the wind
It is a gas, so less wind equals more concentration of radon; other factors like seasons and distance from the primary source also change how much radon is found in different areas.
Radon had its uses
In the '40s and '50s, radon was used to check industrial materials for cracks and flaws; manufacturers eventually replaced this with other, less radioactive x-ray sources.
Why National Radon Action Month is Important
We're keeping our homes safe
We didn't know of the danger lurking around under our houses. National Radon Action Month changes all that and helps us stay safe.
Radon sickness is preventable
There's a way to protect ourselves from radon if only we knew more about this gas and how to mitigate it. The measures we've come to learn by exploring this event help us prevent any unnecessary risk.
We're protecting everyone
Testing for radon increases safety in our homes and the community. This is because radon exposure might not be limited to just one home in your community.
National Radon Action Month dates