Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas.
You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell it or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home.
That’s because when you breathe air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
Radon can be found all over the U.S.
Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon can be found all over the U.S. It can get into any type of building – homes, offices, and schools – and result in a high indoor radon level. But you and your family are most likely to get your greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.
You should test for radon.
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. EPA also recommends testing in schools.
You can fix a radon problem.
Radon reduction systems work and they are not too costly. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.
How Does Radon Get Into Your Home?
Any home may have a radon problem. Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.
Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.
RADON GETS IN THROUGH:
Cracks in solid floors
Cracks in walls
Gaps in suspended floors
Gaps around service pipes
Cavities inside walls
The water supply
Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels. Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your area. While radon problems may be more common in some areas, any home may have a problem. The only way to know about your home is to test.
Radon can also be a problem in schools and workplaces. Ask your state radon office about radon problems in schools, daycare and childcare facilities, and workplaces in your area.
How to Test Your Home
There are Two General Ways to Test for Radon:
The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. “Charcoal canisters,” “alpha track,” “electret ion chamber,” “continuous monitors,” and “charcoal liquid scintillation” detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level.
Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. “Alpha track” and “electret” detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home’s year-round average radon level than a short-term test.
EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps:
Step 1. Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.
Step 2. Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test:
For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test.
If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.
The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.
Step 3. If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.
What Your Test Results Mean
Test your home now and save your results. If you find high radon levels, fix your home before you decide to sell it.
The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.
Sometimes short-term tests are less definitive about whether or not your home is above 4 pCi/L. This can happen when your results are close to 4 pCi/L. For example, if the average of your two short-term test results is 4.1 pCi/L, there is about a 50% chance that your year-round average is somewhat below 4 pCi/L. However, EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk – no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk, and you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.
If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level.
Even if your test result is below 4 pCi/L, you may want to test again sometime in the future.
Radon and Home Sales
More and more, home buyers and renters are asking about radon levels before they buy or rent a home. Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to deal with radon and other issues. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them. Fix a problem if it exists so it won’t complicate your home sale. You can also use the results of two short-term tests done side-by-side (four inches apart) to decide whether to fix your home.
During home sales:
Buyers often ask if a home has been tested, and if elevated levels were reduced.
Buyers frequently want tests made by someone who is not involved in the home sale. Your state radon office can assist you in identifying aqualified tester.
Buyers might want to know the radon levels in areas of the home (like a basement they plan to finish) that the seller might not otherwise test.
Today many homes are built to prevent radon from coming in. Your state or local area may require these radon-resistant construction features. If you are buying or renting a new home, ask the owner or builder if it has radon-resistant features. The EPA recommends building new homes with radon-resistant features in high radon potential (Zone 1) areas. Even if built radon-resistant, every new home should be tested for radon after occupancy. If you have a test result of 4 pCi/L or more, you can have a qualified mitigator easily add a vent fan to an existing passive system for about $300 and further reduce the radon level in your home.
The Risk of Living With Radon
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer. And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.
Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).
Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. Stop smoking and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk.
Scientists are more certain about radon risks than from most other cancer-causing substances.
Children have been reported to have greater risk than adults of certain types of cancer from radiation, but there are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.