IYPT Elements

IYPT 2019 Elements 086: Radon: Background radiation and underground health risk

Element 86 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is radon. Radon is the biggest source of natural background radiation and also has associated health risks.

Radon is a radioactive gas that emanates from the ground. It’s formed from the radioactive decay of small amounts of naturally occurring uranium. Types of rocks associated with the highest levels of naturally occurring radon include granite and limestone. There’s additional information on radon production in rocks here. Radon is the biggest source of the natural background radiation we’re all exposed to.

High concentrations of radon can build up in cellars and basements, entering through small gaps in foundations, and posing a health risk. In areas where there are high background levels of radon, airtight membranes can be used to reduce the radon build-up in houses.

The EPA has estimated that radon is the main cause of lung cancer amongst non-smokers.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry‚Äôs dedicated page.