What Is Radon Gas?
“Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are related to radon.”
Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, the densest gas known. When radon breaks down, it releases what are called “decay products,” including alpha and beta particles and gamma rays.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 1 in 15 houses in the United States carry an elevated level of radon:
Any home can have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well- sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In fact, you and your family are most likely to get your greatest radiation exposure at home. That is where you spend most of your time. — Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon from the EPA (PDF)
Where Radon Comes From
Radon gas is a decay product of uranium, commonly released by uranium-bearing rocks or soil deep in the earth. It can be drawn up into a house or other building by what’s called the “thermal stack effect.” All structures create a vacuum on the soil due to temperature differences.
Weather can have a significant effect on the movement of radon gas — the more a house is heated in the winter, the higher the vacuum.
This is why radon levels fluctuate over time.
As a single-atom gas, radon can easily move through ground soil and building foundations. Radon gas is usually drawn into buildings by warmer indoor temperatures, where it decays into radioactive alpha particles. These particles may lodge in the deep tissue of the mucous membranes lining the lungs, potentially causing lung cancer (source: cancer.gov).
Proper radon mitigation will reduce the chances of this happening.
Once inside a building’s indoor space, radon cannot be easily removed. Radon requires a test to be detected at all — it cannot be detected by human senses. Because it’s so hard to detect, millions of American homes are exposed to unsafe levels of radiation because of radon gas — often without the owners’ knowledge.
How can you find out if your home has unacceptable levels of radon? By testing for it. Radon testing kits can be purchased electronically or at home stores.
Health Hazards of Radon
You may have heard that radon doesn’t pose a true health risk, or that radon mitigation is a hoax or scam. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The health risks posed by radon are real and well-documented by multiple government and independent agencies.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are related to radon. — The National Cancer Institute
Making Your Home Safe from Radon
Whether you’re buying or selling a home, or want to know whether your existing home contains elevated radon levels, it’s important to know what a “safe” level of radon means.
Unfortunately, no level of radon exposure is truly safe.
The risks of radon gas are real, but getting sick as a result of exposure is still a matter of random chance. However, the longer the exposure to radon gas, the bigger the gamble. The good news is, radon is a hazard that can be controlled and minimized.
The EPA’s official action level for radon mitigation is 4.0 pCi/l (pico Curies per liter of air). A pico Curie is one trillionth of a Curie, which is equivalent to 37 billion radioactive disintegrations per second. A pico-curie amounts to approximately 2 radioactive disintegrations per minute (dpm) into the air.
Homes with radon levels between 2 and 4 pCi/l are considered a risk and should be considered for mitigation. A worldwide three-year study by 30 different scientists determined a recommended action level of 2.7 pCi/l, which is now the recommended action level of the World Health Organization. A typical family living in that space could be exposed to 35 times as much radiation as they would at the edge of a radioactive waste site. The lifetime risk of death from exposure to radon at this level is about 1 in 100 — about 1,000 times that of any other carcinogen!
Even levels below 4 pCi/l are not “safe” and should be addressed through professional radon mitigation.
What Can I Do?
Radon is a naturally occurring gas and is difficult to eliminate entirely — but lowering the level of radon is crucial for a home to be safely lived in, bought, or sold.
Do-it-yourself (DIY) radon abatement solutions such as caulking or painting are not enough to significantly reduce radon levels. Radon cannot be sealed out of a house. Professional and high-quality radon mitigation service by experts is the best way to protect your home and investment.
To learn more about this issue and how to reduce radon levels in your home, please explore our radon gas FAQs.