What is Radon?  Why Should I worry?

Radon is a naturally occurring cancer-causing radioactive gas.  It is found in nearly all soils as a natural radioactive decay product of uranium. You can't see it. You can't smell it. You can't taste it. Radon gas is considered harmless when dispersed in outdoor air but can be a serious health hazard when trapped in buildings.

Radon is estimated to cause thousands of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.

* Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to EPA's 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003). The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council Reports.

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they decay 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. The amount of time between exposure and the onset of disease can be many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about the risks from radon than from most other cancer-causing substances  because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in underground miners.

There are considerable biological and epidemiological evidence and data showing the connection between exposure to radon and lung cancer in humans. For this reason, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences, and the US Department of Health and Human Services have classified radon as a Class A human carcinogen. For more detailed information please refer to the EPA's Radon Risk Chart and the AARST Radon Health Studies.

Radon is estimated to cause thousands of deaths each year. 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.

How does Radon get into my home? 

Radon is a radioactive gas. There are two main sources for the radon in your home - the soil and the water supply. Radon gas seeping in from the soil under your foundation is the main cause of radon problems. Radon gas being emitted/released from well water is the other source.  In a small number of homes, the building materials (e.g. granite counters) can give off radon. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

Radon Entry Points
  1. Cracks in solid floors
  2. Construction joints
  3. Cracks in walls
  4. Gaps in suspended floors
  5. Gaps around service pipes
  6. Cavities inside walls
  7. The water supply
  8. Building Materials
    (e.g. Granite Counter Tops)

Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home can trap the radon inside, where it can build up.  This can affect new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. In short, any home can have a radon problem.

Radon gas in the soil can seep into a home through dirt crawlspaces, cracks in the foundation and walls, floor drains, pipes and sump pumps. Radon can enter any home, even those with no visible cracks. Each building is unique, and the ground beneath it is also unique. Two houses side-by-side can have totally different radon levels. The only way to know what the radon levels are inside your home is to measure them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency publishes Zone Maps to diagram the radon status of counties throughout the United States. Keep in mind that a Zone 1 rating (high potential) is not indicative of a radon problem, and a Zone 3 rating (low potential) does not guarantee that a home is problem free.

Radon in the Water

Radon also can enter a home through the well water. When compared to radon entering the home through the soil, radon entering your home through via water is usually a much smaller risk. If your water contains high levels of radon, the radon gas escapes into the household air when the water is running. The EPA says,

The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.

 Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

Radon in your home's water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely to arise when its source is ground water, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

The only way to determine if you have a Radon Problem is to test.

Radon Health Risks ..... Next