Georgia State researchers receive $1.2 million grant to develop radon testing in metro Atlanta

An interdisciplinary team of Georgia State University scientists has received a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop and test a new radon gas measurement system in metro Atlanta, according to a press release.

The four year project, called SitS: A Novel Large-Scale Radon Measurement Wireless Testbed for Spatio-Temporal Study of Radon in Surficial Soil, is a global first, said project director Ashwin Ashok, an assistant professor of computer science.

“Nothing like this network is available anywhere in the world,” said Ashok. “This test bed will measure radon gas continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the data can help builders plan mitigation efforts ahead of time.”

North Georgia, including the Atlanta area and its suburbs, is a region where bedrock is prevalent and is well known for its high natural rates of radon.

Radon is an odorless, radioactive gas that is produced as naturally occurring uranium in the soil decays. Outdoors, it disperses and presents no risk. Indoors, however, the gas can infiltrate homes and other buildings and is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking. Exposure to radon gas kills nearly 22,000 people a year in the United States, including 800 in Georgia, according to the state’s Consumer Protection Division.

Exposure to indoor radon gas is estimated to cause up to 20 percent of lung cancer deaths, other researchers have found.

Current approaches to radon attempt to measure and mitigate after building, using certified radon mitigation contractors. A radon level of less than 4 picocuries per liter is considered safe for human health.

The research team will create a system to measure radon gas underground in real time in DeKalb County using a 200-node wireless sensor network consisting of battery-operated devices placed underground. DeKalb County, with a population of 6 million, is at high risk for radon exposure.

The system will use 200 devices at 200 different locations, all connected to the Internet. The monitoring devices will be placed from one to 10 feet underground, capturing readings from shallow to deep soil.

Before securing the grant, the interdisciplinary team collected indoor home radon measurements across 200 locations in DeKalb County, confirming radon emissions cluster in specific areas in the county.

The measurement data will be made available to the community for free.