Radon is an element which is dissolved and can sometimes be found in the water wells. You cannot smell, see, or taste radon. However, you can drink it, especially when your main water source is the water well.
Having radon in the water is one of the common problems of modern homes nowadays. This element can bring health problems in the long run.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US-EPA), radon is one of the second leading cause of respiratory problems such as lung cancer in America nowadays. It is due to the soil and rocks of the foundation of the building.
However, recent studies show that its presence in the water can cause a significant change in one’s health too.
Thus, this article aims to discuss what is radon and its sources. Also, this will tackle the health risks of radon in the water. Lastly, this will give examples on how to successfully remove or reduce radon in the water source.
Understanding what is Radon
Radon is a gas and it is radioactive. It was first discovered by a German chemist named Friedrich Ernst Dorn in 1990.
Radon is produced through the decay of radium. It is colorless, radioactive, and odorless if it is at room temperature. Since radon is a gas, one can easily inhale it and the tissues of the body are easily exposed to radiation. Indeed, it has a short half-life, however, it can decay into longer, solid, and radioactive elements which can collect on dust particles and be inhaled.
Meanwhile, if it is in its solid state, it is yellow in color and becomes orange-red when it’s in low temperature. Small amounts of radon are used by modern hospitals to aid in treating cancer.
Sources of Radon
Radon can be formed from the decay of radium which can be found in rock, soil, and water.
If it is from the soil, then it is coming from the crust of the Earth. It escapes through the crevices and cracks in the bedrocks. It might also come from the foundation cracks or basements of your homes which are poorly sealed.
Also, it might come from the radium that is dissolved in the groundwater and becomes the source of your water supply. The radon can be trapped in your home and become dangerous in the long run.
Radon found in water is usually from the water wells and drilled in the bedrock with radon gas. The wells can be either private water wells or wells with a public water supply system. However, radon does not usually occur in high concentrations in surface water.
Now, the dissolved radon can escape in the air when you open your water and you take a bath, do your laundry, wash your dirty dishes, and clean your room.
According to studies, the estimated indoor air radon concentrations can increase by about 1 pCi per liter for every 10,000 pCi liters of water. For example, if the water well contains 2,000 pCi per liter of radon, you can expect to have 0.2 pCi per liter of radon to the indoor concentration.
EPA says that the indoor air should not have more than 4 pCi of radon per liter to prevent the potential for cancer.
The different states in America plus the EPA recommend that the standard drinking water must have 300 to 10,000 pCi per liter of radon only but there is no standard that currently exists.
In a study conducted by the Pennsylvania University, it has been found out that 78% of their participants have a water source that exceeded the 300 pCi/L threshold. It has been found out that over 52% exceeded the 1,000 pCi/L standard and 10% exceeded the 5,000 pCi/L guideline.
Health Effects of Radon
You can inhale radon from the air and ingest it from the drinking water inside your home. Studies show that inhaling radon can increase one’s chance of having lung cancer greater than stomach cancer.
One can also likely increase his chance of getting lung cancer if he is exposed to radon plus he is a chain smoker.
Detection and Testing
To determine if your home is at risk of radon exposure, you can do several tests. One of which is through the indoor air radon test which is inexpensive and can be bought at local home supply stores.
Meanwhile, radon sampling on water requires special laboratory or sampling technique to measure radon before it escapes the sample water.
Remember that if there is radon in the water, then it also means that it enters in the house through the soil or basement too. As such, it will be the predominant source of water in your house. Thus, if you treat your water source with radon, you can also eliminate the problems of radon in the air.
You must remove the radon in water before it becomes airborne. Devices that are termed as ‘point-of-entry’ treatment are installed on the devices to treat water resources before it enters your home.
Granular Activated Carbon (GAC)
One method to remove radon in the water is through the use of granular activated carbon (GAC) unit. Nowadays, there are various units available with different models, sizes, and types; however, they all follow the same technique in the removal of radon.
These GAC units have a fiberglass tank with a granular activated carbon. This unit is made of a fine material that can trap and hold the filtered radon. Since that the carbon has a fine particle size, it can quickly clog the sediments or other contaminants that can be found in the water.
Meanwhile, there are GAC units that include a special backwashing inclusion that can be able to remove the sediment. However, this backwashing feature can result in the reduction of the effectiveness of the activated carbon to remove the radon.
Thus, the elimination of the sediment filter or sediment source which is placed on the GAC tank is one of the best protection that you can have to prevent clogging.
There are various estimates that suggest that GAC should only be used on water supplies with a maximum radon concentration of less than 30,000 pCi/L.
After you are done with testing your water, you must check the GAC filters that have high removal efficiency rates according to the level found in the water.
If you have finally decided to buy a unit, choose a filter size that matches your water condition and daily water use.
According to the standards set by the EPA, a three-cubic-foot unit can be able to handle about 250 gallons of water each day and reduce the levels of radon. The typical daily use of water inside the home can range from 50 to 100 gallons each person daily.
One of the major drawbacks of the use of the GAC filters in the removal of the radon is that it can cause an eventual buildup of radioactivity within the GAC filter. As such, you should place the GAC unit in an isolated part of your house like in the basement to prevent exposure.
Also, you have to replace the carbon annually to reduce the dangers of having accumulated radioactivity. Meanwhile, those GAC filters that are used for radon removal needs to be disposed of immediately. You can ask help with the professionals regarding the proper disposal of the used GAC filters.
GAC treatment units are also installed inside the home to remove petroleum, chlorine, pesticides, odors, and various products in the water. In these examples, the GAC filter may accumulate radioactivity as it removes the radon in the water.
With this in mind, one should always test the water and see if it has radon on it. It should be considered as a health hazard that must be removed by the GAC filters.
Home Aeration Units
The USA EPA has stated in some of their reports that aeration is one of the best technology available today that can remove radon in the water.
The home aeration units can agitate the water physically and allow the dissolved radon gas to be vented and collected outside.
With the current innovation in home aeration units, it can be able to remove about 99.9% of radon on it.
If you wish to install home aeration units, other quality issues of the water must be taken into account. This includes the levels of manganese, iron, plus other contaminants. If your water is high on these types of contaminants, they may need to be pre-treated so they won’t clog the aeration unit. Also, you can use disinfection equipment since some of the aeration units will not allow bacterial contamination in the water system.
There are various aeration treatment units that are available nowadays. However, they all function on the principle that aerating or agitating the water will enable the radon gas to escape so that it can vent and capture.
Each of the units has advantages and disadvantages. One of the common aeration styles is a spray aeration unit. In this style, the water that contains radon is sprayed in the tank through a nozzle. The increased surface area of the sprayed water droplets will cause the radon to come out of the water in the form of a gas, while the air blower will carry the radon gas to a vent which is located outside your home.
In the initial spraying, about 50% of the radon only will be removed. As such, you need to spray the water several times in order to increase the removal efficiencies. To have a supply of the treated water, you must use a large holding tank or a 100-gallon tank.
Another aeration unit to try is the packed column wherein the water will pass through a thin film with inert packing material inside the column. With this, the air blower will force the radon contaminated air located at the back of the column to an outdoor vent.
If the column is high, it can remove about 95% of radon in the water. Then, the final stage of aeration system uses a shallow tray that will contact the water and the air.
Water will be sprayed into the tray and it will flow on the ashtray as the air is sprayed up through the tiny holes located on the bottom. As such, it can remove more than 99.9% of radon in the water and it vents outside of your home.
Levels of Radon to Look Out
Currently, there is no federal law or regulation that enforces the standard level of radon in the drinking water. The EPA has proposed to set a rule to regulate the level of radon in the drinking water from the municipal water suppliers or those water systems that cater to more than 25 households whole year round. The EPA does not regulate the water wells managed privately.
EPA has proposed the municipal or community water suppliers to provide clean water with radon levels which is not more than 4,000 pCi/ L. As such, it only contributes up to 0.4 pCi/ L of radon inside your home.
With this requirement, it is assumed that the State also takes action to reduce the levels of radon indoors by developing EPA-approved air units. It also includes an enhanced indoor air program by the State which is called the Multimedia Mitigation Programs.
Most of the radon that you breathe comes from the ground beneath your house. With this option, the State can focus their efforts on resolving bigger problems by encouraging the public to fix the issue of radon inside their homes and prevent it from entering inside.
With the proposed regulation, those States that did not wish to develop their indoor air programs are required to reduce the level of radon in their community water systems of up to 300 pCi/L.
With this amount of radon in the water, it will contribute only of about 0.03 pCi/ L of radon to the air inside your home. Even if a State does not develop and approve of an enhanced indoor air program, private homes may choose water systems with local radon program and produce drinking water of 4,000 pCi/L.
This has been proposed by EPA under the framework of the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. With this, the overall risks of people from radon on both air and water will be reduced.
In sum, radon is present in our drinking water and there are techniques and invention available to reduce its number. You can also try the Berkey Water Filters products for your home. The Berkey black elements have been tested and certified to remove radon 222 to below detectable limits.