About the Radon Project

The Radon (Rn) project aims to promote scientific culture in upper secondary schools, through an experimental research activity that involves the participation of secondary schools, universities and research centers in different European countries. The project comprises several activities over a two years’ period.

Radon is an odorless, gaseous radioactive element that occurs naturally in earth and rock, well water and some building materials. Radon is the second cause of lung risk after cigarette smoking. At present, it is unknown how the risk factor associated to Radon combines with other factors such as air pollution or cigarette smoke. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other national agencies have classified this gas as a Class A carcinogen because of the known connection between exposure and lung cancer. Throughout the Earth there are peculiar regions with levels of emission much higher than average, like, for instance, in Colorado (USA). Radon spreads into homes and other buildings through cracks and openings in basements, crawl spaces and slabs. Radon levels vary from house to house (depending on the building materials and design). Higher levels are more frequent in the lowest home floors. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency, USA), exposure to radon has no immediate effect. However, over a person’s lifetime, radon particles can enter and attach the lungs leading to lung cancer. Recent studies show that smokers are at a higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

From a biological point of view, the electrically charged radon progeny coming from the natural radon decay, can attach to dust particles in indoor air, and can be inhaled into the lungs where decay will continue by emission of alpha radioactive particles. These particles disrupt DNA in lung cells, initiating cancer. Since alpha radiation can only travel short distances and cannot penetrate tissues like skin, lung cancer is the only potential important cancer hazard from indoor radon. Evidence that radon indeed causes lung cancer are provided by studies of underground miners whose high rates of lung cancer have been linked to high levels of radon exposure. A lack of information leads to unwarranted fears, and distorts the risks we take in everyday life. In other words, the subjective perception (sensation) of the risk does not often correspond to the objective and real risk of human activity. In fact, our perception of radioactivity is often misleading due to missing accurate information. The students, that will be the future citizens, must be provided with basic and correct knowledge. In addition, they will learn about experimental methods in research. Students will monitor indoor radon gas contamination in schools, and in public offices of their area, by using tracer detectors model CR 39. The one-year measurement activity will allow students to assess the annual average concentration levels, and the exposure risk factor for the populations involved. In this case a statistical analysis of the results will be run.

All activities will be carried out in collaboration with the universities that will provide scientific support to the project. At the end of the project, a didactic and scientific publication will be drawn up on the project results, and dissemination activities will be carried out on the territory to inform the institutions and the population.

In this project, we would connect the public advantage of monitoring radon emission, dosimetry measurements, the developing of a model for the determination of internal dose due to radon and its progenies exposure, with an interdisciplinary education program devoted to high school students. The project can also include more items related to natural radioactivity. For example, it will be possible to measure the level of natural emitter in the environment surroundings the schools, taking samples of grass, sand, rocks etc.