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Radon & Safety: Ubiquity, Exposure, and OSHA

November 25, 2014

Radon: The Insensible Radioactive Gas

Radon is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless radioactive gas. Increased exposure to large concentrations of the gas have been correlated with an incidence of lung cancer. Radon is released during the decay of uranium and thorium, which are found naturally occurring in varying amounts in rocks, soil, and water.

And when the radon itself decays, it breaks down into radioactive elements that emit alpha particles—which are highly damaging to the tissue in the lungs. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon-exposure is the second-leading cause lung cancer, dwarfed only by smoking.

Outdoors, radon does not pose much of a threat as a carcinogen—it’s concentrations are far too low to be dangerous. However, if indoors, radon accumulation can be a big problem. Factors that can influence the amount of possible amount of exposure of radon include,

  • the soil composition beneath the building,
  • the architectural layout and building materials of the structure,
  • and ventilation construction.

So, more or less, radon may be present inside a home, office, or industrial building at levels high enough to put people at risk. It is also the largest source of exposure to naturally occurring radiation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

An Occupational Hazard?

Some occupations require a modicum of exposure to radon regularly in the workplace. These occupations include, uranium miner, municipal water treatment specialist, and sometimes, home remodeler.

For the treatment of water supplies, radon must be completely removed from the water before is to be deemed of a drinkable quality. Two methods exist to rid supplies of dissolved radon, including using

  • Granular activated carbon (GAC) to soak up and remove from the liquid radon its and radioactive “daughters”, and
  • Aeration, which involves injecting clean air through the water, so the radon will bubble up and be carried out through a tube or exhaust fan.

GAC filters have been known to be effective and less-costly than the aeration procedure. Yet with activated carbon, radioactivity will collect in the filter, causing the waste to be then classified as hazardous and require legal disposal regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

Studies on the relation of radon on miners who work with a great deal of exposure to the gas have shown that, “for the same total exposure, a lower exposure over a longer time is more hazardous than short, high exposures.”

OSHA provides only one exposure limit for radon, the value of 100 pCi/L per 40 hours in any workweek or seven consecutive days.

OSHA’s singular regulation on radon goes on to state:

“If an employer has a work area that is occupied by their employees for 40 hours per week and the Rn-222

[radon] concentration is greater than 100 pCi/L, then the employer must either reduce the number of hours worked in the area or introduce engineering controls to reduce the concentrations.”

If you would like more information on properly dealing with radon or other radioactive gases, please give Hazardous Waste Experts a call at 800-936-2311 or click here to email us.

Photo credit: Great Beyond via compfight

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