Radon Milestones

Today, radon is widely recognized as a serious indoor air pollutant -a radioactive gas with proven carcinogenic qualities that emanates from soil and rock everywhere on earth. From a human health standpoint, radon is a potential hazard when it accumulates in high concentrations inside homes and commercial buildings. Fortunately, we have reliable ways to measure radon levels in buildings. We also have proven techniques for Passive Radon System to lower levels that minimize the risk of adverse health effects.

But, how did radon figure in our history before we had the technology to test and measure radon levels? When was this invisible killer first identified? How long did it take before we were able to establish the effective mitigation strategies that are used today? To answer these questions, here’s a brief timeline that identifies different milestones in radon history.

1789 Uranium is discovered in the Ore Mountains located along the present-day border between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Miners working underground to extract uranium-laden pitchblende (used for coloring wood, pottery and glass) begin to die mysteriously from “mountain sickness” that causes tumors in the lungs.

1900 German chemist Friedrich Dorn discovers radon while studying radium. Originally named “niton” after the Latin word for shining, it was first called radon in 1923.

1932 The American Journal of Cancer publishes an article linking radon exposure to lung cancer. Research data comes primarily from miners who were exposed to radon while working underground.

1984 Stanley Watras, an engineer at the Limerick Nuclear Power Station in Pottstown, PA, blows out the radiation monitor upon entering the nuclear facility. Technicians naturally assume that Watras has been exposed to high levels of radiation at the nuclear power plant, but they eventually determine that his house is the source of radiation. Testing performed at the house detect radioactive levels equivalent to having over 400,000 X-rays per year. The media coverage resulting from this event focuses national attention on radon as a major indoor air pollutant. Repair work totaling more than $32,000 reduces radon levels at the Watras residence to 4pCi/L (4 picocuries per cubic liter of air), the current maximum level deemed acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

1988 The Indoor Radon Abatement Act (IRAA) authorizes the EPA to establish four Regional Radon Training Centers for government officials, professionals and concerned citizens to develop and promote techniques for radon measurement and mitigation.

2007 National Radon Defense is founded to provide comprehensive radon testing and mitigation services across the country through a network of licensed, highly trained contractors.

2010 Recognizing radon exposure as a global health and safety issue, the World Health Organization calls for tighter standards for acceptable levels of radon exposure. The organization recommends reducing the maximum exposure level to 100 bequerels, which is equivalent to 2.7pCi/L. The maximum concentration level recommended by the EPA remains at 4piCi/L.

2011 A new radon initiative is announced at the National Healthy Homes Conference in Denver, CO. The Federal Radon Action Plan aims to integrate the work of many government agencies within the framework of a single strategic approach, in an effort to reduce radon risks in houses and buildings throughout the U.S.