Radon has been around since the beginning of time. Radon gas is just a single stop on the decay chain which starts with Uranium. Uranium has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. If you have 1 pound of uranium it will take 4.5 billion years for you to have .5 pounds. While we think of uranium as a rare substance used for weapons and power, uranium is actually present nearly everywhere. This means that no matter where you live there is most likely some level of radon gas seeping up from the ground. This leads to a scary truth; every home has radon gas in it. Even if there were no gas coming from the soil, radon gas is still prevalent outside in the air. This leads to another shocking revelation.
Radon is the #1 cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. According to the EPA approx. 22,000 deaths per year can be attributed to Radon gas. This makes it the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking and the leading cause in non-smokers. Testing homes for radon has only become widespread in the last few years. In fact, radon presence in indoor air was not widely studied until a situation in 1984 brought attention to the matter. A worker at a nuclear power plant set off alarms as he entered the building. It was determined that the worker did not pick up radiation at work instead it was derived from his home. After testing his home, he was brought aware that his home had a radon level of 2,700 pCi/L. That is 700 times the acceptable level of 4 pCi/L. Even though radon was discovered at the dawn of the 20th century, it wasn’t until this incident that it gained enough traction to be properly studied.
There is no safe level of radon. Just 1 pCi/L is equivalent to smoking 2.5 cigarettes per day. That means at the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L you are basically smoking a half pack each day. So, if there is no safe level, you should reduce levels in your home to zero, right? This is one of the questions we get asked most. People often wonder what the level of radon post mitigation should be and the truth is there is no perfect answer. Ideally post mitigation results should be less than 2 pCi/L. This is sometimes unattainable because lowering radon levels below 2 pCi/L is quite hard to do. Even with the best mitigation techniques some gaps in the basement will still allow gas into the home. The average level of radon gas in the outside air in the United States has been recorded to be .4 pCi/l meaning even with perfect radon mitigation techniques, some radon level will still be present.
Radon gas is not the main way people are exposed to radiation. Just as radon is a decay product, it also produces decay products known as daughters. Radon has a relatively short half-life of only 3.8 days. This means that radon quickly breaks down into other forms of radiation. These daughters of radon are actually what is responsible for most of the health risks associated with radon gas. While radon gas is just that, a gas, radon daughters are solid products which can “plate out” to the home surfaces. These daughters attach themselves to dust and other particles around the home which you easily breathe in. Being a solid, they can sit in your lungs causing consistent exposure to the radiation.
Why don’t we test for radon daughters? Radon daughters come in several shapes and forms along the decay chain. Since they are not a gas mixed in the air, this again makes them harder to detect. Radon is the easiest way to accurately detect radiation levels in the home and to gather enough information to protect yourself and your family. Since radon daughters attach to particles in the home and spread them through the air, there is one easy way to reduce risk to your health. Keep your home clean! Cleaning your home frequently can help to keep radon daughter levels low and keep them from spreading through the air. Another tip is to purchase better furnace filters which can filter out smaller particles. These filters will not remove radon or by-products from the air. These steps may help but if your radon level is 4 pCi/L or higher, mitigation is necessary.
Have your home tested for radon. If you have lived in your home for a long time and have not had your home tested, it is time to do so. If levels are high, it is better to know now and mitigate to lower future health risks. Understand that even if you don’t test for it a future buyer likely will, meaning you will have to pay for the mitigation at some point, now or then. If you are buying a home, it is important to have that home tested. Once you own the home mitigation cost becomes your responsibility. Before you close the deal there is still time to negotiate to have the seller pay for the mitigation system. If the seller will not have the mitigation system installed, they must inform all other potential buyers of the high radon levels. This means their only option is to find a buyer who is ok with high radon levels. Very few things as dangerous as radon can easily be remediated. There is no price one can put on their family. Have your home tested for radon now to ensure their safety.