Radon spas, more frequently referred to as radon mines, radium springs or radon baths, exist throughout the world. For two millennia, cultures have postulated on the therapeutic effects of bathes or inhalation of radon.
Radon (Rn) is an inert gas and the densest gas known. It was identified in the early 20th century. Ernest Rutherford discovered the isotope Rn-220 in 1899 and Fredrich Ernst Dorn, a German chemist and physicist, discovered the more prevalent isotope Rn-222 in 1900. Formed from the natural radioactive decay of radium, radon occurs in small amounts in spring water, streams, and the air.
According to the Environmental Literary Council, radon was a health fad after its initial discovery. It was added to candy and toothpaste until concerns about radon were raised. Studies of uranium miners indicated that miners exposed to high levels of radon had a high incidence of lung cancer.
With the knowledge to isolate radon, scientists continue study the effects of this noble gas. Studies have investigated the treatment of painful degenerative joint and spine diseases with radon therapies. In Russia, radium sources are used produce the radon for the bath water in 5,000 hospitals where covered tubs provide for a million treatments each year.1 Natural radon spas such as Schlema, Brambach, Kreuznach and Bad Gastein in Germany and Bad Gastein in Austria host nearly 75,000 patients undergoing medically supervised radon treatments.
Alpha radiation directly affects sensitive lung tissue. Most of the radiation dose is not actually from radon itself, though, which is mostly exhaled. It comes from radon's chain of short-lived solid decay products that are inhaled and enter the airways of the lungs. These radionuclides decay quickly, producing other radionuclides that continue affect the lung tissue.
The idea of radon therapy is not without controversy. The Environmental Protection agency states that there is no safe level of radon and that any exposure poses some risk of cancer. Others support the positive or neutral effects of low dose radiation. The question is whether or how much the radon impacts or damages the tissue.
Last updated July 11, 2012, 9:24am CDT.