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The history of radon

Radon was discovered in 1900 by the German physicist Frederich Ernst Dorne. It was the fifth radioactive element that was discovered. Dorne showed that a new radioactive gas arose from the decomposition of radon. He called the gas ‘Radium exhalation’. In 1910 Sir William Ramsay and Robert Whytlaw-Gray succeeded in isolating radon and measuring its density and weight. It was discovered that it was one of the heaviest naturally occurring kinds of gas. They renamed the substance to ‘niton.’ Radon was definitively chosen as the name of the substance in 1923 by The Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry.

The harmful effect of radon, however, had been known since the 1500s, where mine workers, who worked in badly ventilated mines often were exposed to high quantities of radon. It was discovered that these people developed breathing problems and pined away to what was back then known as ‘mountain sickness.’ In 1879, this ‘mountain sickness’, which many mine workers suffered from, was identified as lung cancer by Herting and Hesse.

The presence of radon in indoor air was first documented in 1950, and ever since 1970, governments around the world has set up agencies to analyze radon concentrations in their households. In UK, our radon leaks were analyzed by The National Board of Health in 2001 and recommendations about thresholds, measurements, and reduction methods were worked out in the following years.