Radon is a noble gas that lacks taste, color, and an odor. Its parent atoms are Thorium and Uranium. It is formed when this parent atom undergoes a chain of radioactive decay. Uranium is found in soil, water, rock, and air. Specifically, Radon is a product of Radium, which is a natural product that is formed when Uranium undergoes radioactive decay. Radon gets its radioactive characteristics due to the abundance of neutrons within its nucleus.
Radon spreads through the soil and into the air. As a result, it is mostly found in air, as it is a well-known air pollutant. It is also found in water and soil. Radon has limited abundance. There are approximately only a few tens of grams of Radon existing in Earth’s atmosphere. It has been estimated that there are only 4 x 10 -13 milligrams per kilogram of Radon. Radon is constantly being replaced by decay of Uranium and Radium. The half-life of Radon is approximately 3.8 days.
Radon undergoes alpha decay. In this process, an alpha particle is released, and the nucleus is split. There is a loss of two neutrons and 2 protons. The decay occurs in a relatively short time frame. The products of the decay are Polonium, Lead, Bismuth, and Thalium. All of the half-lives for these products are less than thirty minutes. As a product of the decay, radiation is released as alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma radiation.
Radon can be very harmful to those that are exposed to it. It is one of the main contributors to the development of lung cancer. Particularly, Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among individuals who do not smoke. It is very impactful regarding the quality of indoor air. High levels of Radon within households poses a major threat to health. Radon is able to infiltrate into homes and buildings that are built on soil containing Uranium. A link has also been found between Radon and Leukemia. Studies conducted on uranium miners showed a relation between radon exposure and the onset of chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In addition to this, water can also be contaminated with Radon. Radon can be released during showers. It can also be released from water when the pressure is lowered, and the temperature is raised.
There have been several guidelines released to protect against Radon exposure, and to reduce Radon exposure in households. It is most important to alter the ventilation in the house. Radon levels will decrease with increased ventilation. Ventilation under the floors should be increased via soil suction. With soil suction, Radon is pulled from underneath the house and vented outside. The transport of Radon into living rooms from basements should be decreased. A Radon sump system should be installed within the basement of the home, and as well as the installation of a positive ventilation system. In addition to this, any existing cracks in a home or building should be sealed and circulating air should be utilized.
Previously between the 1920s and 1950s, Radon was used as therapy for tumors. Radon was actually used as a cancer treatment in the past. This treatment was discontinued after it was discovered that Radon was capable of causing cancer. Increased Radon levels are viewed as a sign of an earthquake, due to its presence in rocks. Any potential earthquake can be detected when Radon gas is released from underneath the surface. This method of detecting earthquakes has been effective in the Soviet Union, the United States, and China.
In addition to naturally occurring radiation, radiation can also be used by humans and technology for advances in industrial, medical, and scientific fields. Radiation can also be used for the benefit of food and health. One area in which radiation can be used in the food industry is Food Irradiation.
Food Irradiation is used in the food industry because it can beneficial for the shelf life of produce items. Food irradiation is carried out using Gamma rays and X-rays. Gamma rays and X-rays are capable of penetrating foods. During a controlled time-frame, the food is exposed to controlled levels of radiation. The success of this method is dependent on the bacteria’s susceptibility to radiation, as well as the condition of the food. Frozen foods require exposure to larger amounts of radiation to kill the bacteria. Radiation energy is able to break apart the bonds of the DNA molecules and prevent the organisms from growing and surviving.
One positive aspect of this process is that it does not make food radioactive. Irradiation of food items is beneficial because pathogenic microorganisms are reduced or eliminated. This mechanism is especially helpful in warding of food-borne illnesses. It is also beneficial because the nutritious value of foods is not altered. The shelf life of foods is lengthened, because sprouting is inhibited, and ripening is delayed.
One potential negative of food irradiation is the reduction of some vitamin content. While the nutritional value of foods essentially remains unchanged, Thiamine content in some foods may be reduced, though not enough to lead to deficiency. Another disadvantage is that viruses can resist the levels of irradiation that have been approved for use on foods. Also, foods that have been irradiated are sold at a higher cost.
Irradiated foods have become increasingly available over time. Since the 1970s these foods have been offered to astronauts, and these foods have been included in some small grocery stores since the early 1990s. Also, Irradiated foods have been used as a treatment for immune-compromised individuals. All irradiated foods are inspected and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The process of food irradiation is completed at food irradiation facilities. There is no radioactive waste produced at these facilities. The radionuclides that are used as sources, Cobalt-60 and Cesium-137, are made in a nuclear reactor. After the materials have been made, the radionuclides are transferred and stored in the reactor to be reactivated for future use. Steel canisters are used or this safe transfer. Cobalt-60 is disposable and does not pose a threat due to its stability and short half-life.
Within this process, there is no radiation being released into the environment. The tools and machinery are incapable of becoming radioactive. Also, the source of radiation will not explode, and the irradiator will not experience a meltdown. Materials will not be activated because neutrons will not be emitted.
It is important to note that while food irradiation is a beneficial mechanism, it is not perfect. While it does prevent spoiling of food and the spread of food-borne illnesses, it will not kill all of the bacteria. Food irradiation is not a sterilization of foods. It does not substitute food safety practices. Foods that have been irradiated should be handled with the same precautions as foods that have not been irradiated.