Radon gas is a byproduct of the breakdown of radium, a naturally occurring substance. Radon gas is colorless, tasteless, and odorless, and unless specific collection tests are run, it is pretty much undetectable with our senses. Extended exposure to radon gas and the radioactive particles it gives off, however, can lead to long-term health issues and eventually cancer in some cases.
Radon gas is unusual in that it is one of the densest compounds to remain in gaseous form at standard temperatures and pressures. That makes it able to collect or pool when undisturbed by airflow pushing it around and breaking it up. When radon collects under your house in a crawl space or seeps with regularity up your bedroom wall and through the seams and spaces into your bedroom air, you end up ingesting a lot of radon in quantity during a short period of time. Radon gas is carcinogenic and the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US. Since it is so undetectable without proper equipment and test materials, many people do not know they have been exposed until it is too late and they have significant respiratory damage. Any time someone lives in a zone high in radon gas averages, especially Zone 1 in Colorado, attention has to be paid when you start to cough a lot, cough up blood, can not catch your breath easily, or just cannot seem to shake a cold, chest infection, bronchitis or pneumonia. You need to seek medical attention and get your home tested for radon gas levels. Your life may well depend on it.
Colorado is especially vulnerable due to the high mineral content of our soil. Radon gas is most often associated with the breakdown of uranium or radium but also occurs in shale, phosphates, and igneous and metamorphic rock such as granite. Some varieties of limestone also emit radon but generally in lower quantities than other stones. Areas of the country that were formed by glaciation and subsequent deposition of granite and other similar rock have high levels of radon gas as well. Natural rock is not the only place radon can be produced, as some construction materials also off-gas some level of radon, and construction in general acts as a pooling location due to pipes that go into the ground with spaces around them, footers and slabs in buildings disturbing the ground, and spaces under buildings. Airtight, poorly ventilated buildings all have a better potential for radon gas problems than ones set up to balance air pressure and airflow.
If you live in an area with high radon gas levels, and your house has not undergone mitigation such as a radon sump system or soil suction and ventilation, you need to talk to the doctor about lung cancer potential the next time that cold just will not ease up. Radon poisoning is slow and insidious, and often undetected until the damage is done. It is worth the low price of radon testing and reasonable charges for mitigation systems to protect your health.