When it comes to volatile organic compounds, few are more dangerous than radon and carbon monoxide. Not only are radon and carbon monoxide found commonly in indoor environments where people live and work, but they are both quite deadly. Which one is worse for your health? Which one—carbon monoxide or radon—will kill you faster upon exposure? The following article will compare these two air contaminants to determine which compound is worse for you and what steps you can take to ensure that you never become exposed to radon or carbon monoxide.
What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that is produced naturally by the Earth. Uranium in the soil, rocks, and water—which is present in trace amounts throughout the world—breaks down over time and releases radon gas, which is emitted into the air through the surface of the Earth. Radon can get inside your home, office, school, or any other indoor space through cracks in the building’s structure, especially the basement. Radon can also be found in water, which is another way it can enter your home and your body.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide, otherwise known as carbon oxide or CO, is a toxic gas. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless and invisible, which makes it particularly dangerous, since your regular senses cannot determine when radon is present. Carbon monoxide is produced from a wide variety of sources, both natural and man-made. Biological processes, like plant respiration and breathing, produce carbon monoxide. Trace amounts of CO are present in the atmosphere, especially near Earth’s surface. The Environmental Protection Agency claims that the average level of carbon monoxide in a home is 0.5 to 5 parts per million (ppm). Fuel burning appliances are the main source of dangerous concentrations of carbon monoxide. Kerosene space heaters, automobile engine exhaust, gasoline-burning electricity generators, and gas stove ranges can all produce carbon monoxide in the home.
Which is worse for your health, radon or carbon monoxide?
Both radon and carbon monoxide are deadly, but determining which one is worse for your health is more or less a matter of preference. Would you rather burn out or fade away? With radon exposure comes years of battling lung cancer. With carbon monoxide, on the other hand, exposure to very high concentrations could be fatal in a matter of moments.
Low concentrations of carbon monoxide will cause symptoms that resemble the flu: fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nausea, and confusion. Over time even moderate levels of CO will cause long-term damage or death. Radon exposure in high concentrations will bring about the onset of cancer sooner. Based on both the short-term and long-term effects, carbon monoxide is probably more dangerous to your health than radon.
Which one is more common, radon or carbon monoxide?
Both radon and carbon monoxide are found nearly everywhere on Earth in trace amounts. Radon and CO occur naturally in the Earth’s atmosphere, typically close to the ground. You are probably breathing radon right now without even realizing it. You’re breathing carbon monoxide even as you read this. But don’t panic. Except in situations when there is an excess concentration of radon or CO in an indoor environment, the amount of these contaminants is so minute that it will never cause any health problems. Just don’t hang out for too long near the exhaust of your ski boat.
How common are dangerous levels of radon in the average American home? Unfortunately the EPA estimates that 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. contains elevated levels of radon. Since the 2010 US Census indicated that there are 112,611,029 households in the US, that means that roughly 7.5 million homes have elevated levels of radon in them. Per-home carbon monoxide levels are not known, but the EPA claims that “20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 [people] are hospitalized due to CO poisoning” each year. In terms of overall unhealthy exposure rates, radon is more common than carbon monoxide.
Will radon or carbon monoxide affect you faster?
Radon is most deadly when the exposure comes from a particularly high concentration over a long period of time. When radon enters the lungs it either destroys lung tissue cells or interferes with their regular processes. When the lung cells attempt to regenerate they can sometimes make errors, which is when cancer develops. As such, radon is typically not fatal until years after exposure, when lung tissue has deteriorated and cancer has had a chance to spread throughout the lungs. Radon is certainly deadly, but compared to carbon monoxide it is fairly slow-acting.
Carbon monoxide, on the other hand, can produce symptoms in humans and animals almost immediately when concentrations are high enough. CO acts like oxygen molecules when you breathe them in, so red blood cells will begin to transport carbon monoxide throughout your body instead of oxygen, which can cause a wide range of problems, from muscle fatigue, to brain damage, to death.
How many deaths are attributed to radon and carbon monoxide?
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 21,000 deaths per year are attributable to radon cancer. This is more than the number of drunk driving accident deaths, drownings, home fire deaths, and deaths from falls in the home. Smoking does play a major role in the development of lung cancer from radon. Indeed, the EPA acknowledges that the risk of developing cancer from radon exposure is much higher for smokers than non-smokers. Only about 3,000 of the 21,000 deaths from radon exposure come from non-smokers. For carbon monoxide, the EPA estimates that approximately “400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning.” Thus, radon is the cause behind more deaths per year than carbon monoxide in the United States.
Which is easier to detect, radon or carbon monoxide?
Both radon and carbon monoxide are relatively easy to detect, although neither are easy to treat. If you request the services of a certified indoor environmental company or industrial hygiene specialist, they can conduct radon or carbon monoxide testing as part of a comprehensive indoor air quality assessment. Radon testing will determine whether or not your home contains unusually high radon levels. Full-service industrial hygiene companies will be able to fix leaks and repair any spots in your home that allow radon to pass through.
Carbon monoxide testing will determine if CO levels in your home ought to be lowered. Inspection and testing for radon and carbon monoxide are just part of the solution. Preventing radon exposure necessitates fixing leaks and cracks, implementing protective barriers in the home, and regular radon monitoring. Some people live in areas of the country which are especially prone to radon exposure, in which case testing is imperative. Even homes in areas of the nation with relatively low radon danger have been known to have levels of these volatile organic compounds that are unsafe. Schedule an appointment with an indoor environmental services testing company to get conclusive answers to your questions about radon and carbon monoxide within your home or business.