What is Radon?

  • January 24, 2020

Radon is one of those words that strikes fear into the hearts of most homeowners when they hear the mention of it, but often, we don’t really understand what radon is and what our risk is. Over the past decade, government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and media outlets have made the public aware of the significant dangers of radon, and this has gone a long way in helping to mitigate a hazard that is damaging the health of people in their own homes. We want you to be safe and healthy in your home, so here is some information about radon and what is means to you.

All About Radon

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas that is emitted from the ground and has the potential to be found in homes, schools and businesses. It is a radioactive gas and is formed when radioactive elements, such as uranium, break down and decay, releasing a gas through the ground. Since radon is radioactive, it is in the same class of materials used in nuclear power, medicine and weapons. Radioactive elements are known to cause cancer in humans through both high doses over a short time period and low doses over an extended time period. Radon gas is typically released in relatively low levels and can produce negative health effects when exposed to over a long period of time.

The most common health implication for long-term radon exposure is lung cancer. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, second only to smoking. Radon is able to cause lung cancer in those who have never smoked, but when smoking is combined with radon exposure, the risk of lung cancer increases significantly.

A lack of symptoms by those living in the home does not indicate the absence of radon. Since the gas cannot be physically seen or observed, it is possible to live in a home for decades without ever knowing that radon is present. As it often takes many years for mutations to occur in our bodies due to the radioactive nature of radon, the presence of cancer symptoms is typically indicative of long-term exposure to radon gas.

To help determine what levels of radon are considered safe in your home, the EPA has set a standard at which homeowners should take action to reduce radon levels. Tests which reveal radon levels of 4pCi/L or higher indicate that immediate action should be taken by homeowners to lower the levels of radon to ensure the health and safety of occupants. While this is the limit set by the EPA, no amount of radon is considered to be healthy, so mitigation could be considered in homes below this threshold.

Where is it Found?

If you live in the United States, there is a chance that radon gas could be present in your home. Radon has been found in varying levels in all 50 states. Some areas have higher average concentrations of radon, such as the Midwest and Northeast, but there are no states that are exempt from the possibility of radon.  Just because the average concentration of radon for a state is low or within acceptable limits does not mean that the radon levels within a particular house are within those same acceptable limits. This average level per state means that some homes have higher levels while others have lower levels.

While radon levels can vary significantly by state, they can also have a wide range within a given locality. Big differences in radon levels can even show up between neighboring houses. Just because your neighbor tested their home and no problem was found does not necessarily mean that your home is safe also. The only way to know for sure that your home is safe from radon is to test your home.

How Does Radon Enter My Home?

Since radon is a gas, it has the ability to easily move up through soils and enter your home from the ground. It can enter through most any building material, including concrete, block, wood and drywall. While it will flow most easily through cracks within your home, it has the ability to enter through even the most tightly sealed homes and can actually seep through solid concrete. No building material is resistant to being penetrated by radon.

Since radon can penetrate all building materials and it is impossible to stop the infiltration of the gas into your home, the best option is to detect if radon is present and effectively mitigate the hazard by removing the gas from your home. As we continue this series on our blog, we will be discussing how to properly test for and mitigate radon in your home.