A recent report by the National Nuclear Regulator has raised concerns regarding possible hotspot areas that could expose residents to radioactive gases and two of them are in the Western Cape.
When radium or uranium is broken down into soils, rocks or groundwater, it produces a radioactive gas called “radon”. This toxic by-product can make its way to homes in particles carried by the air.
South Africa has had a long history with pollution as a result of mining and it seems the problem is getting worse.
Area such as the Karoo and Paarl have been identified as a threat to locals. In the Karoo, left over mine waste is still affecting the area, with houses built on old stockpiles of uranium ore expected to experience the worst effects of the substance. In Paarl, geological formations are a risk for radon exposure. The natural phenomenon could have negative impacts on human health.
Radon is known to build up in homes when it is unable to disperse. Tiny particles of radon are known to attach themselves to dust particles which can be easily inhaled by humans, breathing in atoms that are decaying and emitting alpha radiation that can cause DNA damage.
Roughly 3% to 14% of lung cancer cases have been linked to radon exposure. Radon is thus the second most common cause of lung cancer, after smoking cigarettes. Most cases of lung cancer caused by radon are due to exposure over longer periods to low or moderate concentrations of the toxic by-product.
Following their report, the NNR has called for the government to heed their warnings and come up with a plan of action. They have suggested a national study to identify radon prone areas, an update of legislation and regulations to include radon in dwellings, engaging with local government to incorporate radon dwellings into their building codes and regulatory control. Lastly, they suggest educating the public on the risks of radon exposure and encouraging home checks for radon levels.