Right now I am teaching “Planning Calculations”. This is not a module that lends itself to posting on the blog….who wants to see an equation, a word problem or a math example in this context?
I am reduced to posting about topics that I have in my little bag of tricks: topics that present themselves in my life or while with students that I save for discussion on this blog.
Today’s topic: radon gas.
So what is radon gas and what does it have to do with us carpenters?
Radon is a product of the decay of radioactive elements that produces radium, that in turn produces radon over a long period of time (tens of millions of years). As radon gas continues to decay, it produces radon “daughters”. These are actually solids, not gases, but the particles are tiny and they stick to surfaces such as dust particles, that are dangerous if inhaled as they in turn stick to the airways of the lungs and increase the risk of developing lung cancer. In this regard, radon gas and the “daughters” it creates are odourless and colourless, and so not easily detectable by normal means.
It is also easily inhaled, and people are often not aware of ingesting it until they have been diagnosed with lung cancer…it is usually the single largest contributor to a person’s background radiation dose. Radon gas from natural sources can accumulate in low areas because it is heavier than other gases in the atmosphere, so high concentrations may be found in basements and crawl spaces. It is the leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking and is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
You can read more:
This is pretty heavy stuff….the good news is that radon contamination is not found everywhere, and although it is impossible to predict, there are some geographical areas where it is more common, like in some areas of the prairies, for example.
What to do? Firstly, for carpenters, we should be constructing buildings that have built-in radon mitigation measures. This is quite simple and easy to do in the initial construction phase of any structure and is fairly low tech….simply connect a series of 4″ BNQ pipes with weep holes to a vertical stack that goes through the roof (much like a plumbing vent). The pipes will collect the gasses as they accumulate under the structure and they will then be wafted into the atmosphere where they will dissipate and prove harmless. In fact, this is a prerequisite if you would like to construct a LEED certified home at any level of certification. As it is so cheap and easy to do, there is actually no reason not to do it. It is a no-brainer!
Secondly, you can purchase a radon detection kit (ahh, the internet!!) and take a sample for analysis to see if you are at risk. I did this recently:
It is a little black puck that comes with instructions and an envelope for returning to the lab for analysis in 90+ days. It has to be hung in the middle of a lived-in room (not the kitchen or bathroom) so as to collect the data:
Once the time has expired, you simply mail it off and wait for the (hopefully) good news. If the news is bad, you will have to take measures to reduce the incidence of radon in your home.
In 3 months or so, I will report back to you regarding my test results and if I have to take action…..we’ll see. Hopefully, there will be no excitment in my life on this front at least!