Radon is a silent killer. 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by Radon according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. For non-smokers it’s the leading cause for lung cancer. Lung cancer caused by radon costs the United States over $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care costs. One in three homes that were checked in seven states and three Indian reservations had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, which is the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure. Children may be more sensitive to radon. If you smoke and your home has high levels of radon your risk for lung cancer will double. If you’re breathing radon over time you increases your risk of lung cancer. Radon particles can even make asthma worse. Both long-term and short-term exposure can cause health problems such as reduced lung function and more asthma attacks.
Radon is an inert gas that is colorless, tasteless and odorless that can cause cancer. One in every 15 homes is thought to have high levels of radon. The highest concentration of radon tends to be found in the basement or on the first floor. Radon gas in the soil may be as much as 10 times higher in the summer than in the winter. Radon is not produced as a commercial product. Radon exposure causes no symptoms. You could be breathing in high levels of radon and not even know it. Radon gas is caused by the break down of uranium in rocks, soil and water. It seeps up through the ground and into homes through cracks in your house’s foundation and crawl spaces. When you have high radon levels, and you use water from a well, the water should be tested. Radon contaminated water used for household activities, like showering, brushing your teeth or doing laundry increases your exposure to radon. When your water is heated, the radon gas can be released into the air and breathed in. If you do have radon in your water, you should install a point of entry filter to mitigate the problem.
Hawaii has the lowest radon levels of all 50 states with an average level of 0 pCi/L. The uranium content of Hawaiian rocks is low and most rocks near the surface are porous allowing for air to dilute the radon.
The ten states with the highest levels of radon are:
2. South Dakota
10. West Virginia
Alaska has the highest radon levels of 10.7 pCi/L. Homeowners in Alaska are encouraged to test for radon every two years.
Thirty-four states have enacted laws addressing radon. Twenty-nine states require disclosure of radon hazards when selling a home. Twenty-five states require radon inspectors and/or mitigators be licensed. Nine states require new construction be radon-resistant. Twenty-three have local codes mandating radon resistance in new construction. In 27 states, radon is part of their building code.
On the outside radon poisoning is at a low risk. Outside radon seeps to the surface and floats away into the atmosphere. This type of exposure causes little risk. In a building it’s a different story. The building acts as a container allowing the radon to concentrate in the building. The time between exposure and development of lung cancer can be years. When a person is exposed to radon, 75% of the radon progeny in lungs will become “harmless” lead particles after 44 years. When an alpha particle damages a cell to make it cancerous, the onset of lung cancer takes a minimum of five years but most often 15 to 25 years, and even longer. Because of all the research I’ve done I don’t believe there are any safe levels for radon.
If you have high radon levels in your home you should see your doctor if you have:
coughing up blood
shortness of breath
chest pain, especially when you cough or laugh
frequent infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia
Radon exposure can be found in any type of home, whether it has a basement, a crawl space or is built on a slab. If you home is very well insulated, tightly sealed or located where the soil contains a lot of uranium, thorium and radium your home is at greater risk to have high levels of radon. Homes with basements are suspect for having higher radon levels. Porous foundation walls allow radon gas to enter a basement. Houses in the Northeast and Midwest tend to have higher radon levels than those in other parts of the country. Having a recently build home doesn’t reduce your home’s risk. If your home has contact with the earth then your home has a chance of having a high level of radon.
The best way for protecting yourself and your family from long-term radon gas is to get your home’s levels checked. The EPA recommends a two level test for radon. A homeowner should buy a short-term test kit. This is a small device that is left in the house for a few days depending on the kit you purchased. Most kits will have you place your device:
• In a spot where it will have access to the same air your family will inhale
• Away from doors and windows
• At a level that is not to high nor too low
• On a shelf or someplace where it won’t be moved accidently
At the end of the test period the device is sent to the lab for analysis. If the test shows a radon level of 4 pCi/L or more you will have to do a second test. Your second test should come from the same company as the first. If the second test is above 4 pCi/L you will have to make repairs to your home to reduce your radon levels.
Your repairs should include:
• Cracks in walls and solid floors
• Gaps in construction joints and suspended floors
• Gaps around pipes
• Cavities inside walls
After you have made the repairs you should repeat the radon test to make sure levels are below 4 pCi/L. You can also buy a radon detector. Place your radon detector 2-6 feet above the floor, and away from drafts, exterior walls, sumps, drains, windows or doors.
If you are having a home built you should take precautions to make sure the soil you are building your home doesn’t have high levels of radon.
My mother would always open all the windows in our house once or twice a week. This is a temporary solution. You can reduce radon levels simply by opening windows. Opening windows improves air circulation and ventilation. This will help move radon out of your house and mixing radon-free outside air with indoor air. Make sure you open all your basement windows regularly.