What Is Radon?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General’s Office have urged widespread testing for radon. After smoking, radon is the nation’s second leading cause of lung cancer. As many as 36,000 lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon each year. EPA studies indicate that millions of American homes have levels at or above 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.

In a home with radon levels at or above 4 pCi/l, a typical family is exposed to approximately 35 TIMES AS MUCH radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the perimeter of a radioactive waste site. Most EPA lifetime safety standards for carcinogens are established based on a 1 in 100,000 risk of death. Most scientists agree that the lifetime risk of death from exposure to radon at 4 pCi/l is approximately 1 in 100. This radon level carries approximately 1,000 times the risk of death as any other EPA carcinogen!.

Radon’s primary hazard comes from the atmospheric release of radon-222, released by the decay of uranium-238 present in soil and rock. This process yields radioactive decay products (polonium, lead, and bismuth) that rapidly attach to airborne materials, such as dust, which facilitate inhalation. These alpha particles may lodge in the delicate cells of the mucus membranes lining the lung, potentially causing lung cancer

Radon, a colorless, chemically unreactive, inert gas, is the densest gas known. The gas and its highly radioactive metallic daughter products emit alpha and beta particles and gamma rays. The alpha radiation emitted by radon is the exact same alpha radiation that is emitted by any other alpha generating radiation source, like plutonium.

Radon reaches dangerous levels in buildings due to a “stack effect” vacuum caused by warmer indoor temperatures drawing radon in through a building’s foundation. Because it is a single atom gas, radon moves easily through ground soil and building foundations and common building materials such as sheetrock, concrete block, mortar, tar paper, wood paneling, and most insulation. Radon’s extended half-life (about a month) provides ample time for the gas to migrate into a building’s indoor air where it decays into the harmful radioactive heavy metals discussed earlier. This gas and the resulting metallic particles move quickly through a building, contaminating the air. Almost nothing will stop this gas from moving from the basement to other parts of a house if it makes its way into the basement in the first place.

For more information, view our page on radon removal services or peruse our collection of frequently asked questions.