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the design, construction, and xuse of asimple, ive en vironmental radon gas detector 3 that you can bull. eis called beverage can environmental radon monitor or BERM be- cause its ionization chamber methods for measuring and re- } ‘sensor i made from a readily ~ cording events of rates that can be translated Into units of available aluminum bev: radon density. can. You willbe given a choiet of 56“ Most peopie are expased to-en- vironmental radon in, excess of ‘the natural rate because of the ‘me they spend indoors. This. first article explains what radon is, why itisahealth hazard, and the ‘of knowing the levet of radon in the rooms of your house where you spend fost of your time while in- doors. It.also includes the infor- mation needed to build the lonization chamber, its ampil- fier circuitry, and alternativecir- cults for charging the ena ber’ internal Righ-voltage 6@- Pacitar to 500 pulse: instrument calibration. ‘and conversion of pulse rates «if radon density units. The artick] also offers alternative met ‘Even ifthe BERACio only crf dely calibrated, it can warn yo of unsafe radon levels in calibrated. it can give read that compare favorably wi those obtained from professiot al radon monlioring instr] ments costing thousands of gidollars. Constructing the PRBERM wl give you “han f Berperience in measuring acom- amon form of radioactivity, and i pélve youa better understanding pg 2! how It produces isotopes” jubjects not easily grasped in tures or from teading. ‘The cost of parts to Butid the ERM, exclusive of a power apply. Is typically less than p20. Because moot atthe an onents are readily available, pyou might deableto reduce even, post modest cost by making use arts you already have se nd. You will need the ‘stan- lard electronic technician's set hand tools as well as such electronic test equipment two-channel oscilloscope either an analog or cigted hat is radon? ‘Radon is a natural. inert, ra- itive gas emitted from the - Odoriess. colorless. and visible. itis abyproduct of the lioactive decay of uranium, eause itis inert and does not mically bond to elements, it from the soil into the re, Radon is emitted most everywhereon earth, but le Geographical regions have ligher concentrations thaa thers. depending on the local Bérology and soil porosity. Radon becomes a health Problem when it decays and produces other short-lived iso fe 'opes called daughter products progeny. These chemically EActive isotopes are usually formed as charged particles ‘They bond readily to Beother substances such as dust Bend smoke particulates. Table | fpstsa portion of the decay chain jot radon 222 and its short-lived eny. When radon decays, it re- See Aipha Particles with an & of 5.5 million electron elts.(5.5 MeV), That would mi to be a large amount, but febha particles travel only 4 to 7 timeters (1.5 to 2.5 inches} before dissipating their the fonization of air . A plece of paper oF man. skin is thick Sugh to step alpha particles, Direct exposure ta radon, un- slike direct exposure to beta par. ticles. gamma rays, X-rays" or even ultraviolet light. poses lit. Ue risk for humans. ‘The health threat from radon is indirect. Energetic alpha pare ticles can cause chromosomal damage to the thin layers of lung tissue when humane breath air contaminated by radon and its progeny. That damage is a potential cause of lung cancer, especially when coupled with the effects of eiga- ete smoke in the lungs. There are several different forms of radon, but radon 222 {s the most prevalent form, and 1s of the most concer to health, researcher. The number 222 re. fers to its isotope number, The alpha particles emitted by Fadon and its progeny are he. lium nueles, Most of the radon 222 that is inhaled is either exhaled dt rectly or it diffuses into the bloodstream where its alpha emission does little detectable damage. However, raden's ‘short-lived progeny such as pol. enum 214 and polonium 216 are more likely to emit alpha Particles that are capable of damaging sensitive human ussue, The alpha particles from the decay process of polonium 218 have 6.0 MeV of energy while those from poloniun fave 7.7 MeV, both higher than the 5:5 ‘MeV of radon 222. For this rea. enon. S0n. rescarchers believe that are the agents primarily re- sponses inducing lung can- ger In situations where radon 222 1s present in amounts con- aidered to be above the safe level. ~ Radon has been aconatituent Of the air for millions of years, We became aware of Its exis- tenee enly when instruments were developed that could de- tect and measure it. Its pres. nce is ofconcern because of the alarming statistics on death due to Jung cancer. its presence has long been considered a con- tributing factor to those deaths, Fit 1s difficult to sepa- rate cancer attributable to radon alone from that attribut- able only to smoking or to-smok. ing in the presence of radon. ‘The harmless concentration ef radon in the outdoor air is about one-thousandth of its softcentration in the ground, This can be demonstrated by placing an inverted bucket on bare ground over a suitable radon moniter. The radon ema: nating from the soll collects tn. sidé the bueket until an equilibrium condition ig reached, The monitor will prob. ably indicate a radon con- centration that is several orders. of magnitude higher than that in the surrounding air. but less than the soil concentration in the soil, A house with a foundation, walls, floors, and a roof can be ToaMPunen - 3 MON coca ‘51 Cony FIG.2— RADON MONITOR AMPLIFIER amplifies vottage pulses across resistor Rtand ‘then datects them for counting by separate pulse-rate counting elreuiry. ‘considered analogous toa buck- fet. It will also trap radon that Ikaks into the indoor airspace, especially if all the doors and windows of the house are closed. Under these conditions, the indoor radon might be 10 10 100 umes: more concentrated than outdoor radon. People in developed countries typically spend mest of their time in- rs at work, at school, oF at ‘home, so they could be to radon concentrations that are considered to be high enough to endanger health. Units The amount of radon in the air, termed specific activity. 1s measured In-units of picoCuries per liter (pCi). This can be ine terpreted as 2.22 disintegra- tons per minute per liter of air ‘Typical radon concentration in the outside air is about 0.1 to 0.2 pCV1, Radon gas in the soil, at a depth of about 15 inches. ‘5 typleally 100 pci ‘The Environmental Protec- ton Ageney (EPA) has stated that a radon level within a home of 4 pCULor less will present lit: Ue er no health threat. It has B Electonics Now, tanvary 1908 URI ‘alphas SRSA Me phe Published recommendations specific actions to be taken ‘where higher concentration lev- cls are found. These include fol- Jow-up testing in other rooms in the home. Nevertheless, it is ul- timately up to the homecwner to decide what radon level fs ac- ceptable for his home in the ab- sence of a scientifically estab- lished absolute safe threshold level for radon exposure. Published risie comparisons Indicate that a radon con- centration of 30 pCi carries about the samé cumulative risk as smoking two packs of elga: rettes per day, Detectors ‘There are many commercial instruments and techniques available for measuring raden indoors. Most detectors for eval- ating indoor radon levels are passive in that they do not re- quire external power. Examples Include activated charcoal ean- nisters or nuclear track etch de- tectors. These detectors are exposed to indoor air under specified test conditions. After exposure, they are sent off toa laboratory for analysis, the same approach used in detect. Jig ing X-ray exposure with passive detection badj The principal drawback to passive detectors is that they measure radon concentration at only one specificloeation fora specified period of time, Many variables influence radon con centration levels: therefore. a single estimate of radon con: centration is likely to haveasig- nificant error. Obviously, radon con- centrationsurveysbased on two or more passive measurements will provide a more accurate as sessment than a single mea- surement, but they are expen- sive because the price ofaone_ tume-only” passive detector can range from 825 to $100. If you ‘conduct only one test, the EPA recommends that it be run un- ‘der worst-case conditions, By worst case conditions, the, EPA means that the test should i be made in any in the home or Bali tae. is closest to the; just above the floor slab. craw! space of basement) at a time of the year when ventilation is at a mini mum—typically during the] winter 4 The air exchange rate and type of heating and cool tem ina housé or bullding ca ¢ause wide vartations in the amount of radon present due th differences in the way air is in troduced. circulated and ex: hnausted. There can alsobe d variations in radon con: centration. Because randon readings might exceed limits considered to be safe, it is reef ommended that radon con} centration levels be measure over a one-year period in dil ferent locations in the home obtain the best estimateoflong term risk. aly an active radon monttof such as the BERM |s capable off monitoring radon continug ously. Commercial instrument capable of doing that cost several thousand d The BERM radon monitor hi many of the features of the ex pensive instruments at a f lower price, BERM readings wil be not b very accurate unless they arg}