Radon gas seepage from basement

What is Radon Gas?

Radon is a natural radioactive material found in soil and groundwater.  Radioactive decay of Radium 226 produces radon gas. An aroma-less, monochrome and flavourless radioactive gas is formed when the uranium ores are broken down.  With these characteristics, radon gas is not detectable by our human senses.  Although found in the open air, it is harmless due to dilution when the gas mixes with the air. In enclosed spaces however, it can accumulate and reach dangerously high levels, increasing the risk of disease such as lung cancer.  Radon gas is considered a serious contaminant affecting indoor air quality, not just in Ottawa, not just in Canada, but worldwide.

How does Radon penetrate a building?

Radon is found in phosphate rock, shale, igneous and metamorphic rocks such as granite, and to a lesser degree, in common rocks such as limestone. Concentrations are not uniform in all regions. However, soil, caves, uranium mines and water bodies can also contain and emit radon gas. Since basements are the main contact point between any building and the soil, radon gas can seep through due to:

  • Exposure to soil
  • Cracks and gaps in floors
  • Cracks in foundation walls and cavities inside walls
  • Basement floor drains, sump pumps and the water supply
  • Concrete blocks & porous foundations

How to reduce Radon concentrations?

  • Ventilation – by maintaining fresh air flow through out a building and striking the right balance between heating and cooling requirements
  • Enhanced impermeability of basements – by cementing exposed soil and cracks and caulking loose pipes
  • Good construction practices – by using vapour barriers, waterproofing and proper selection and thickness of materials
  • Fireplace or gas furnaces – by functioning as exhaust fans, these can circulate fresh air

A closed home or building additionally poses the risk of accumulation of volatile organic compounds – VOCs.  Air quality and environmental risks exist everywhere: on the beach, it is exposure to ultraviolet light; on a farm, there can be pesticides and in a building, there could be radon gas. Awareness is more than half the battle.  If you are concerned about the possibility of radon gas in your home, you should be aware that simple tests are available to measure levels.  Both short term tests and long term tests have been developed and these are available commercially.  Indoor air quality experts can also assist you and put your mind at ease.

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