What is Radon?
Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas released by the naturally-occurring decomposition of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon causes lung cancer. In the atmosphere, radon is not a threat to humans because it is so diluted. However, when concentrated radon levels get trapped in our home, school or office, the risk for developing lung cancer is significantly increased.
What is the Risk of Radon Exposure?
Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in people who never smoked. And for current or former smokers, exposure to radon is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Research shows that radon exposure can more than triple the risk of developing lung cancer for both smokers and nonsmokers. In fact, more Americans will die from radon-induced lung cancer than from AIDS, drunk driving, drowning or home fires. We protect ourselves from these other dangers by avoiding risky behaviors, and installing appropriate safety devices and monitors.
Yet, even though radon poses a significantly greater threat, little is done to protect us from this mysterious killer. The danger of radon exposure and the simple steps to take to eliminate that danger are easy to understand. The only mystery surrounding radon is why everyone has not been warned.
How many Americans are diagnosed with radon-induced lung cancer?
It is difficult to know for certain how many people develop lung cancer caused by radon exposure. One reason is that the damage caused by radon may take many years before manifesting. Radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer in people who never smoked. According to the EPA, more than 20,000 Americans die from radon-induced lung cancer each year.
How Does Radon Cause Lung Cancer?
When we breathe air with radon gas, radioactive particles embed themselves into our lung tissue. Over the course of perhaps several years, radon causes lung cancer, the number one cause of cancer deaths. More Americans die from lung cancer than from all the other major cancers combined.
How Does Radon get into Homes?
Radon gas enters our homes through cracks in floors, walls or foundations. It seeps in through gaps around pipes and other small openings. The air pressure inside a home is usually lower than pressure around the home’s foundation. This causes a vacuum effect that sucks radon out of the soil and bedrock and into the home. Radon also enters the home through water. When radon-infused water is used for showering, radon gas is released into the air in the home.
Where is Radon?
Although dangerous levels of radon have been found in all areas of the country, certain geographical areas are classified as having higher concentrations of radon than others. The EPA evaluated the indoor radon potential in every county across the nation. Nearly 1 out of 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels, according to the EPA. To classify the potential for elevated indoor radon risk, the EPA assigned three color codes—red, orange and yellow. Red has the potential highest concentration; orange moderate; and yellow low.
You can do a quick search here to see the general radon level in your area.
However, deadly levels have even been detected in all zones. The only way to know if the radon level in your home is safe is to test.
How Do I Test for Radon?
Radon testing is inexpensive and easy. There are short-term tests and long-term tests. For fast results, short-term tests are the most common, inexpensive and easy-to-use. The short-term, charcoal-activated radon test kit is available at most home improvement stores or online. Charcoal-activated test kits usually include a postage-paid mailer, lab analysis with the results delivered to you via email or mailed to your home. This type of kit usually will cost between $12 and $20. (Make certain your kit includes the lab analysis or else you may have to pay additional fees for the lab results.)
The short-term test takes a minimum of three days and maximum of six days. Follow the instructions for placing the test in the lowest livable area of your home. Radon is heavier than air, which is why testing should be done in the lowest lived-in area of the home. Complete the form on the outside of the kit with the date and time you started the test, as well as your name, address and email, if you request the lab results be sent to you via email. There are other questions and instructions, such as circling the average temperature of the room. Place the test away from drafts or open windows and just forget about it for a few days. It’s important that you do not forget about it too long, though. Radon breaks down and, after seven days, the test results will be inconclusive. So be certain to mail the kit back before then.
Within a few weeks, your radon test lab results will be sent to you, along with recommendations based on the results.
How is Radon Measured?
Radon levels are measured in pico curies per liter (pCi/L). There is no known safe level of exposure to radon. However, the EPA recommends that homeowners consider fixing their home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. The EPA recommends homes be mitigated if the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more.
What is Radon Mitigation?
Radon mitigation is accomplished, basically, by drawing the radon gas through a vented pipe, bypassing your home and releasing it in the atmosphere where it is diluted and harmless.
If your short-term radon test kit indicated that your home has an elevated level of radon, you may want to re-test to confirm the results before mitigating. If your home needs to mitigated, don’t panic. The cost is quite reasonable especially compared to other homeowner repairs. The average cost of mitigating a home is $1,200. It can usually be finished in a day.
The EPA recommends hiring a qualified radon mitigation contractor to fix your home. Not using a qualified mitigation contractor could actually increase the radon level in your home.