*Corresponding author.

E-mail address: pressyan@hotmail.com (D. Pressyanov).
Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A 447 (2000) 619}621
Letter to the Editor
Polycarbonates: a long-term highly sensitive radon monitor
D. Pressyanov*, J. Buysse, A. Po$jn, G. Meesen, A. Van Deynse
Laboratory of Nuclear Physics, University of Gent, Proeftuinstraat 86, B-9000 Gent, Belgium
Faculty of Physics, St. Kliment Ohridski University of Soxa, 5 James Bourchier Blvd., BG-1164 Soxa, Bulgaria
Received 4 August 1999; received in revised form 5 November 1999; accepted 29 November 1999
An approach for long-term (either retrospective or prospective) ```Rn measurements is proposed that is based on the
combination of the high radon absorption ability of some polycarbonates with their alpha track-etch properties. The
detection limit is projected to be (10 Bq m` for an exposure time of 20 yr. 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights
Keywords: Radon; Alpha tracks; Retrospective measurements; Polycarbonates
At present radon, and especially ```Rn, is recog-
nised as a human carcinogen and may be the most
important source of internal exposure for members
of the public [1]. Radon-222 gives rise to decay
?'` '
@'`` '
&& `¹"Bi
@'`" '
?'¹"" '
Inhaled short-lived progeny (the "rst 4 isotopes,
after ```Rn) deposit on the bronchial tree and the
emitted radiation (especially ) can cause malig-
nant transformations in the target cells. Many stud-
ies among miners have shown a direct relation
between lung cancer and radon exposure, but risk
estimates for the public are not complete and con-
troversial. In the light of continuing e!orts to gain
conclusive data for the risk, precise ```Rn-exposure
estimates for periods of a year or more are highly
desirable. The most popular methods for long-term
retrospective exposure estimates, rely on glass-im-
planted `¹"Pb/`¹"Po [2,3] determinations. Recent
experience shows that the accuracy achieved by this
approach is at best a factor of two [4,5]. Other
recent methods are based on spongy materials that
serve as volume traps [5]. Up to now this technique
is time and labor consuming and sensitive only to
high indoor exposures. In this letter we show that
the high radon absorption ability of some polycar-
bonates can be combined with their alpha track-
etch properties to achieve precise long-term (either
retrospective or prospective) radon assessment. The
detection limit is projected to be (10 Bq m` for
an exposure of 20 yr, provided the polycarbonate
0168-9002/00/$- see front matter 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 1 6 8 - 9 0 0 2 ( 9 9 ) 0 1 2 9 1 - 7
Fig. 1. The net track-density beneath 72 m removed layer of
Makrofol foils as a function of integrated ```Rn concentration
(MBq h m`).
used is su$ciently free of alpha-radioactive impu-
rities, not related to the absorbed ```Rn.
The high radon-absorption ability of some poly-
carbonates has already been reported in the litera-
ture [6]. For the present experiments we used
0.3 mm thick foils (Makrofol௡ DE 1-4, commercial
product of Bayer AG, Leverkusen, Germany). This
material has recognised track-etch properties [7].
The basic idea is to remove from the foil, after its
exposure to ```Rn, a surface layer thicker than the
range of the most energetic alphas of the ```Rn
progeny. This is '64 m for the 7.69 MeV alphas
of `¹"Po. If ``"Rn progeny are present, the removal
layer should be '80 m for the 8.78 MeV alpha
particles of `¹`Po. The tracks formed deeper are
due to a source within the foil volume (assumed to
be the absorbed ```Rn and its short- and long-lived
progeny). In this way the in#uence of widely vari-
able plateout of the ```Rn progeny on the surface is
cancelled out and the track density is directly pro-
portional to the integrated ```Rn concentration.
To test this method Makrofol foils were exposed
to arti"cially created integrated ```Rn concentra-
tions within the 8.5}52 MBq h m` range. This
range corresponds to an exposure over 20 yr to
concentrations of the order 50}300 Bq m`. After-
wards a 72 m surface layer was removed by
a chemical pre-etching in 6 M KOH#ethyl alcohol
(1:1 volume ratio) at 603C [8]. Furthermore, the
foils were etched electrochemically for 2.5 h as de-
scribed in Ref. [9] and the tracks were counted by
an image analyser. Results are shown in Fig. 1,
where the linear dependence between track density
and integrated ```Rn levels can clearly be seen.
To verify the absence of contributions from the
plateout of the ```Rn progeny on the surface, other
sets of foils were irradiated using 7.69 MeV -par-
ticle #uxes in the 0}50 000 cm` range and were
subsequently treated in the same manner. The ir-
radiation source was prepared by taking air sam-
ples on 0.3 m Millipore "lters from arti"cially
created high ```Rn/```Rn progeny concentrations.
The "lters were removed and set aside for 40 min to
allow `¹`Po to decay, and then the di!erent foils
were exposed to pure 7.69 MeV -source. Alpha
#uxes for di!erent intervals of irradiation were
estimated by -spectrometry. The results of this
experiment showed no signi"cant di!erence in the
track densities between irradiated and non-irra-
diated detectors.
Therefore, we conclude that the track densities in
Fig. 1 are associated with absorbed radon within
the polycarbonate volume and any dependence on
particular behaviour of aerosols/```Rn progeny in
room air (a serious obstacle for the glass-implanted
methods) is thus cancelled out.
At present polycarbonate foils are increasingly
used in households, as indicated by an increase in
the production of polycarbonates in recent years.
Samples of foils made of Makrofol, Lexan or sim-
ilar materials may be easily used for long-term
prospective and retrospective radon measurements.
Year-long measurements in the Laboratory of Nu-
clear Physics at the University of Gent found negli-
gible fading and constant track-etch properties of
Makrofol over long time intervals. When the foils
were kept in an `olda (radon-free) air for years, the
background track density did not increase signi"-
cantly. This indicates that this material is su$-
ciently free of alpha-radioactive impurities that are
not related to the absorbed radon, and therefore it
could be used for year-long measurements. Numer-
ical estimates, using the approach described in
Ref. [10], showed that, for projected exposure
periods of 20 yr, the detection limit of the
present method is at typical outdoors levels
620 D. Pressyanov et al. / Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A 447 (2000) 619}621
((10 Bq m`). The deviation due to the growth of
`¹"Po in the volume is less than 10% for a 20 yr
exposure. Another bene"cial point is the possibility
to calibrate the samples a posteriori. This promises
to eliminate any potential bias due to the individual
variation of radon absorption/track-etch proper-
ties of di!erent types of polycarbonate foils.
[1] ICRP Publication 65. Protection against radon-222 at
home and at work. Annals of the ICRP 23.
[2] R.S. Lively, E.P. Ney, Health Phys. 52 (1987) 411.
[3] C. Samuelsson, Nature 334 (1988) 338.
[4] J. Cornelis, C. Landsheere, A. Van Trier, H. Vanmarcke,
A. Po$jn, Appl. Radiat. Isot. 43 (1992) 127.
[5] S. Oberstedt, H. Vanmarcke, Health Phys. 70 (1996)
[6] H. MoK re, L.M. Hubbard, Radiat. Prot. Dosim. 74 (1997)
[7] M. Urban, E. Piesch, Radiat. Prot. Dosim. 1 (1981) 97.
[8] B. DoK rschel, B. Burgkhardt, J. Lewitz, E. Piesch,
G. Streubel, Radiat. Prot. Dosim. 50 (1993) 5.
[9] H. Vanmarcke, A. Janssens, Nucl. Tracks 12 (1986)
[10] L.A. Currie, Anal. Chem. 40 (1969) 586.
D. Pressyanov et al. / Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research A 447 (2000) 619}621 621

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