Melting the permafrost can expose people in the Arctic to radon, which causes cancer.

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According to new research, the melting of permafrost due to climate change can expose people in the Arctic to much higher concentrations of gasradone, which causes invisible lung cancer.

Professor Paul Glover of the University of Leeds and his co-authors permafrost Historically, it has acted as a protective barrier to prevent radon from moving to the surface and entering buildings there.

Radon is an invisible, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas. It causes about one-tenth of deaths from lung cancer and has a far greater impact on smokers than nonsmokers. It causes higher mortality in subarctic communities due to the prevalence of smoking.

Their study was published in the AGU Journal today. The future of the earthModeled radon production, soil, permafrost, its flow through the model building-including those with basements and surface basements, and more traditionally built on stakes.

They show that in buildings with basements, the presence of radon gas can increase by more than 100 times the initial value in up to 7 years, depending on the depth of the permafrost and the melting rate of the permafrost. increase.

Not only does this show the importance of keeping the permafrost intact by limiting global warming, but it also has a significant impact on the provision of health. building Code and ventilation advice.

The presence of the permafrost has been found to act as a radon barrier, reducing surface radiation to one-tenth of the background level, but increasing the radon concentration behind the barrier by up to 12-fold. This was the case for a wide range of depths to the permafrost.

“Radon is known to be the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking,” said Glover, a professor of global environmental studies at Leeds. Smoking also exacerbates the incidence of lung cancer with radon by about 26 times. Smoking is on the rise, 4.4 times higher in the Arctic community.

“As a result, unexpected radon eruptions can pose dangerous health hazards if unplanned. Fortunately, if problems are identified, simply installed ventilation is sufficient.

“If the permafrost is stable, don’t worry, but it’s now widely recognized. Climate change By 2050, a 42% loss of permafrost is expected in the Arctic Permafrost Region (ACPR), leading to significant thawing of permafrost.

“Then radon can pass through the permafrost and lead to a plume of radioactive gas in the building.[s] There are years to reach its peak, and many more to disappear. ”

The The future of the earth Publications suggest that permafrost thawing does not result in an increase in radon compared to the background levels of buildings traditionally built in Arctic communities built on piles. ..

For buildings with basements, the melting of the permafrost can leave radon concentrations above 200 becquerels (Bq / m) per cubic meter.3) A value that many countries use as a threshold of action for up to 7 years, depending on the depth of the permafrost and the thawing rate.

“Our results clearly show that radon reservoirs are released into the basement of a building over a long period of time and remain above radiation levels for 4-7 years,” said Professor Glover.

“These communities are not aware of the historical radon problem, and the gas itself cannot be detected without special equipment, so we consider this to be an important and completely avoidable threat to the health of the northern communities. I am. ”

Professor Glover emphasizes that these are early results that had to include many assumptions. In particular, there is a significant lack of data on the rock physics of Arctic soils and permafrost.

There is a possibility radon Finding an efficient path to the surface along the preferred thaw zone, through both advection and diffusion, Melting of permafrost Slower.

Professor Glover is part of the Applied Earth Sciences and Rock Physics and Geomechanics Group. Their work includes the theory, modeling, measurement, and application of Earth’s materials and processes. He was the founder and first president of the Energy, Resources and Environment Division of the European Geosciences Union.

Reassessment of radon as a reliable groundwater tracer

For more information:
PWJ Glover et al, Increased radon exposure due to melting of permafrost due to climate change, The future of the earth (2022). DOI: 10.1029 / 2021EF002598

Quote: Thawing the permafrost can expose the Arctic population to cancer-causing radon (February 8, 2022).

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Melting the permafrost can expose people in the Arctic to radon, which causes cancer.

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