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Using people to screen for home radon.

Using people to screen for home radon

Measuring radon levels in a home has traditionally required leaving a charcoal canister in the living area for 4 to 7 days, or a more sophisticated alpha (radiation)-track device in the home for up to a year. But there may be much faster and simpler ways to screen for radon--at least for levels that constitute a really serious hazard, according to scientists at Argonne (Ill.) National Laboratory. The researchers, who also presented their results at the Health Physics Society meeting, have found that measuring radon in a home's occupants can, depending on the radiation counter used, provide a gauge sensitive enough to detect home radon concentrations as low as 3 to 4 pCi/l. And they suspect that a mass screening device suitable for voluntary use--in shopping malls, for example--could be developed that would within 1 minute identify whether an individual's home had really worrisome levels of the hazardous pollutant (i.e. 20 pCi/l or more).

The researchers came up with the idea in the process of screening workers from a radium-dial plant in Pennsylvania, says Richard E. Toohey. While the monitors showed little or no radium contamination, "we did find a lot of radon daughters deposited in and on the people.' To make sure this was not contamination they had carried home from work, the Argonne researchers surveyed their homes. And, notes Toohey, "our [human-contamination] data correlated well with radon levels in their homes.'

The people were scanned with a sodium-iodide-crystal-based whole-body radiation counter. As the monitored individual, lying on a flat bed, was pulled under the crystal, gamma rays emitted from the body would cause the crystal to fluoresce. A photomultiplier tube converts the fluorescent light to a voltage. Since the voltage is proportional to the emitted gamma ray's energy, and because each radon daughter emits gamma rays having a characteristic energy, voltage readings permit identification of the contaminating radon daughters, Toohey explains.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Aug 15, 1987
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