By Rebecca Morley, Executive Director, National Center for Healthy Housing Captain Susan M. Conrath, PhD, MPH, U.S. Public Health Service, Environmental Protection Agency
Taking the Time to Test Your Home for Radon Could Save the Lives of You and Your Loved Ones
Most everyone knows that the sun gives off natural radiation, which can damage your eyes and skin. And, most people take action to protect themselves and their children from the sun’s rays. But did you know that the earth gives off natural radiation too, which can seep into your home and become an indoor air hazard for your family? This form of radiation is called radon gas and it comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in rocks and soil.
Radon is all around us, but when it is trapped indoors, it becomes a serious health concern. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer among smokers and the top cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year — killing more people than even drunk driving.
Radon is invisible and odorless and can appear in any type of home: old, new, with or without a basement. High indoor radon levels have been found in every state. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates about 1 in 15 homes have high levels of radon. That’s about 8 million homes with high levels.
Radon gas moves from the soil and rocks into our homes through openings and cracks in our home’s foundation and through sump pumps, floor drains, and even through concrete block walls. Radon can also get in through drinking water. Once indoors, radon can build up indoors to dangerous levels. When this happens, it becomes necessary to take action.
Radon is consistently rated as one of the top environmental risks addressed by the federal government and the leading environmental cause of cancer. The science behind radon is extremely strong.
In study after study, groups of people exposed to higher levels of radon die from lung cancer more than those with low levels of radon. This is why the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that all homes be tested for radon.
Testing is the only way to know if your home has elevated radon levels. It’s easy and inexpensive to test and find out how much radon is lurking inside your family’s home. Do-it-yourself test kits are available online and at retail outlets or by calling your state radon office. You can find out more about testing for, and fixing home radon problems at www.epa.gov/radon.
EPA has an “action level,” at or above which people should fix their homes. EPA’s “action level” is 4 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L). However, this action level does not mean that lower levels are safe. In fact, the World Health Organization identified 2.7 pCi/L as its level of concern. So, we recommend that people consider fixing their homes when the radon level is above 2 pCi/L.
If your home has a high level, a qualified professional can install a simple vent pipe to reduce your radon exposure. If you’re buying or selling a home, make sure it’s been tested for radon and that levels are acceptable to protect your family. If you’re building a new home, ask to have it built with radon-resistant features.
A great place to get information about radon is through your state radon office. You can also find your state contact information at www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html