In some countries, radon exposure is a leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, the World Health Organisation says.
The global health agency spoke in commemoration of the 2021 World Cancer Day which holds February 4 of every year.
But, what is radon?
Experts say radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium, which are radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater.
“Radon is a radioactive gas you can’t see, feel, taste, or smell. It starts out as uranium, a heavy metal found in the ground and most rocks on the planet. When uranium decays, it turns into another metal called radium. When radium breaks down, it becomes radon,” online portal WebMD states.
People can be exposed to radon primarily from breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes.
Indeed, a 2018 study published by Science Direct in the Journal of Radiation Research and Applied Sciences states that a radon survey was carried out in some nursery and primary schools located in Ibadan-North Local Government Area of Oyo State, where researchers found radon in different locations inside the school buildings, including classrooms and offices.
The researchers say radon is the main source of radioactivity in the earth’s atmosphere, and that, radon along with radium and uranium has been found to be mainly responsible for lung cancer, not only among the uranium miners but also among the general public.
“Radon is the second cause of lung cancer in the general population, after smoking,” the researchers, led by Rachel Obed of the Department of Physics, University of Ibadan, Oyo State. WebMD adds that if you breathe a lot of radon and smoke, your chance of getting lung cancer is very high.
The study notes that the school environment affects a child’s health and ability to learn, and could be the determinative factor for some children as to whether they succeed in school or fail.
They say growing children are more susceptible to environmental contaminants than adults.
“This is because children proportionately breathe more air, drink more fluids and eat more food than adults. This makes their developing systems more vulnerable to environmental toxins than fully developed adults.
“Apart from this, the effects of radon exposure is long-term, before its effects become manifest in adult, they might have died,” the study states, urging that school children must be well prevented from radon exposure.
Again, a 2019 study published online in the journal Oxford Academic and titled, ‘Survey of indoor radon levels in some universities in South Western Nigeria,’ notes that expected mortality rate due to exposure to radon activity concentration was estimated to range from zero to 44 deaths among a population of 10,000 persons.
The study had examined radon effects in three Nigerian universities namely, the Federal University of Technology Akure, FUTA; Ekiti State University, EKSU; and the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, FUOYE.
Experts say when you breathe in radon, it gets into the lining of your lungs and gives off radiation. Over a long time, that can damage the cells there and lead to lung cancer.
Symptoms of radon exposure include throat irritation, breathing difficulties, tightness in the chest, runny nose and allergy-like symptoms, such as sneezing.
Others are burning sensations in the nose; dry, itchy skin rashes, headaches, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, fatigue, irritability, nausea, body aches, fever and chills.
How are you exposed to radon?
Experts say buildings, like your home, school, or office, are built into the ground. If there are cracks in floors or walls, or small openings for pipes or wires that aren’t fully sealed, radon can escape the soil and get indoors.
They add that some building materials such as concrete and wallboard, are made from natural substances that give off radon
Again, your job may put you in contact with radon, especially if you work underground or with phosphate fertilizers.
Radon is also in water that comes from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs, but most of it is released into the air before the water gets to you.
“If your home’s water supply comes from a well or another groundwater source, it may have more radon than water from a treatment facility,” the experts warn.
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