Los Alamos National Laboratory
Periodic Table of Elements: LANL

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Atomic Number: 86 Atomic Radius: 220 pm (Van der Waals)
Atomic Symbol: Rn Melting Point: -71 °C
Atomic Weight: 222 Boiling Point: -61.7 °C
Electron Configuration: [Xe]6s24f145d106p6 Oxidation States: 6, 2, 0


The name was derived from radium; called niton at first, from the Latin word nitens meaning shining.The element was discovered in 1900 by Dorn, who called it radium emanation. In 1908 Ramsay and Gray, who named it niton, isolated the element and determined its density, finding it to be the heaviest known gas. It is essentially inert and occupies the last place in the zero group of gases in the Periodic Table. Since 1923, it has been called radon.


Thirty-nine isotopes are known. Radon-222 is the most common. It has a half-life of 3.823 days and is an alpha emitter. It is estimated that every square mile of soil to a depth of 6 inches contains about 1 g of radium, which releases radon in tiny amounts into the atmosphere. Radon gas can collect in buildings, creating a health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year. More on radon and health. Radon is present in some spring waters, such as those at Hot Springs, Arkansas.


Radon is present in the atomosphere at very low concentrations. See Wikipedia for discussion of concentration. At ordinary temperatures radon is a colorless gas; when cooled below the freezing point, radon exhibits a brilliant phosphorescence which becomes yellow as the temperature is lowered and orange-red at the temperature of liquid air. It has been reported that fluorine reacts with radon, forming a fluoride. Radon clathrates have also been reported.


Radon is still produced for therapeutic use by a few hospitals by pumping it from a radium source and sealing it in minute tubes, called seeds or needles, for application to patient. This practice has been largely discontinued as hospitals can get the seeds directly from suppliers, who make up the seeds with the desired activity for the day of use.


Care must be taken in handling radon, as with other radioactive materials. The main hazard is from inhalation of the element and its solid daughters which are collected on dust in the air. Good ventilation should be provided where radium, thorium, or actinium is stored to prevent build-up of the element. Radon build-up is a health consideration in uranium mines. Recently radon build-up in homes has been a concern. Many deaths from lung cancer are caused by radon exposure. In the U.S. it is recommended that remedial action be taken if the air in homes exceeds 4 pCi/l.

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