Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium – which are radioactive metals – break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater.
In South Africa, there was previously not significant control over radioactive materials in mining waste and slime.
After a century of gold mining in South Africa, with the addition of uranium mining in recent decades, radon levels in some areas are expected to be high.
The dangers of high radon levels
When a person breathes in radon the radioactive particles from the gas can get trapped in their lungs, which increases the risk of lung cancer over time.
High radon levels are a major cause of lung cancer globally, only second to smoking in countries like the United States. A combination of smoking and radon levels are particularly deadly.
People are mainly exposed to radon through the air in their homes, which is why the United States’ Department of Health advises people to have their homes tested regularly for radon levels.
“Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are exposed to high levels of radon,” the department said.
According to the WHO and the International Commission of Radiological Protection, 200 becquerels per cubic metre (bq/m3) is the maximum acceptable level before radon inflicts health damage.
South Africa should test for radon
The National Nuclear Regulator said radon measurements are already enforced in many countries, but not in South Africa.
Rapport reported that National Nuclear Regulator spokesperson Gino Moonsamy said they are currently looking at enforcing radon measurements through legislation.
The regulator is currently changing the legal and regulatory framework to enforce radon monitoring in South Africa.
This will help to protect citizens against the harmful effect of radon, as they will be alerted to high levels of the radioactive gas at their homes.