A ‘noble gas’ certainly sounds like a good thing. Xenon is one of them and helps to keep things dazzlingly bright on our roads at night. Captured inside balloons, helium is a welcome guest at weddings and parties. Helium is the most common noble gas and has been known to science for 150 years. Radon is another noble gas and was first discovered in 1900. So what is radon?

Tracking down the invisible

Unlike the other noble gases, radon plays a much more dangerous part in our everyday lives. So much so, that the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) recently amended a law requiring all German states to identify regions where high radon concentrations exist by the end of 2020. Armed with these values, employers will then need to keep workplaces for their employees under a guidance value of 300 becquerels per cubic meter as an annual average. For more details, see section 124 of the German Radiation Protection Act.

It does seem incredible that we’ve never seen any of this on the news. So why is this so? If inhaled at higher doses and over a lengthy period of time, this radioactive gas can cause lung cancer. While smoking remains the number one cause of death here, the BfS reports that around five percent of all lung cancer fatalities can be traced back to radon.

Which is very worrying. So this is why my colleagues and I are busy testing buildings. The sources of radon lie in rock formations or in the soil itself. The gas moves upwards through these – and not just into the open air but also into our working and living spaces through cracks in basement floors or old vaulted cellars. And this is where our experts step in, using dosimeters that measure radioactivity to inspect these buildings. The recommendation here is to leave the meters in place for twelve months: by taking readings throughout the year, this averages out the influence of room ventilation and changes in ambient pressure. The data are then analyzed with the aim of preparing an expert opinion.

If my colleagues do find concentrations that are higher than expected, the detective work begins. Once the crack or hole is found that is letting the invisible gas inside the building, various options are available. Thorough ventilation and sealing off the entry-point is one possibility. Another is to set up air-conditioning units or a ‘radon sump’. Sumps are placed underground: the sump sucks the radon away from the house to a collection point.

It’s all about the dose

So is radon really only a dangerous gas? On this point, I could quote the Renaissance doctor Paracelsus: “All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.” And it’s true: the Federal Office for Radiation Protection has also confirmed that radon has a positive effect in pain management. Three treatment methods are currently used: radon spas, radon baths and drinking cures. In the spas, patients inhale the gas at a specific, carefully controlled concentration. In the baths, pain sufferers bathe in radon-infused waters. And drinking cures are self-explanatory.

In conclusion:

Für Radon gilt, wie auch für andere Gase, Pflanzen oder Substanzen: Die Dosis ist entscheidend.

Author

Nicole Krzemien

Nicole Krzemien

Social Media Manager

Every day she is fascinated anew by her diverse job and her expert colleagues. She is eager to learn and tries to incorporate innovations into her everyday life. She loves the balancing act between work and family, enjoys being on or near the water and reads even more than she writes.

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