Radon--an invisible, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas— is the second leading cause of lung cancer here in the United States and is more prevalent than you may think. Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one out of every 15 homes has elevated radon levels? Protecting your family from high radon levels is easy and inexpensive.
What is radon and where does it come from?
Radon is released from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Once released into the air, radon gets trapped in buildings (including homes, schools and offices) and pollutes the air you breathe. Any home can have a radon problem, especially those below the third floor in a multi-family home. According to the EPA, radon gets into your home through:
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Gaps around service pipes
The average indoor radon level is about 1.3 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) and the average radon of outside air is about 0.4 pCi/L. The EPA states that no level of radon is safe and encourages homeowners to take action and fix their home if radon levels are 4 pCi/L or higher.
Radon can also enter the home through tap water, especially if the water is from a private well. Trace amounts of radon are dispersed in the air when water is running through a sink faucet and/or shower. Research suggests that radon ingested via drinking water poses less of a risk than radon that is inhaled through the air.
How can you protect your home from this cancer-causing gas?
Testing your home for radon isn’t expensive and can be done with minimal effort. All you need is a do-it-yourself radon test kit which can be purchased from your local hardware store or by calling 1-800-SOS-RADON (767-7236). Radon kits can be purchased on-line for as little as $15 for a short-term kit and $25 for a long-term kit (find out more here)
. Consumer Reports recommends the Accustar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100 (long-term kit) and RTCA 4 Pass Charcoal Canister (short-term kit). The EPA and Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor.
The EPA recommends the following steps to test for radon:
Step 1: Take a short-term test. A short-term test remains in your home for 2 to 90 days. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.
Step 2: Follow up with either a long-term test (which tests your home for more than 90 days) or perform a second short-term test. For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test. If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test. The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice the EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.
Step 3: If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.
Initial measurements should be taken in the lowest lived-in level of your home. Avoid testing in a kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, or hallway since high humidity levels and drafty conditions can skew test results.
So you have tested your home and the levels exceed 4 pCi/L, now what?
Contact your state radon office
to find a qualified radon professional. Certified professionals can also be found by visiting the National Radon Safety Board or the National Radon Proficiency Program
. The Radon FIX-IT Program Help line (1-800-644-6999) can also help provide you with information on how to reduce radon levels in your home. Radon professionals can reduce radon levels significantly or prevent it from entering your home. Depending on the radon reduction system used, radon levels can be reduced by up to 99%. More information on ways to reduce radon levels in your home can be found in the “Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction
For families suffering from economic hardships, contact your state radon office
and inquire about the availability of government programs, such as:
Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program which funds the rehabilitation and repair of affordable housing. For more information about this program, call (202) 708-3587.
"203k" program which funds rehabilitation and repair of single family homes. Call (202) 708-2121 for more information.
Environmental Justice Grants funds community-based organizations and tribal governments addressing environmental concerns of people of color and low income communities. Call the EPA's Office of Environmental Justice at (800) 962-6215 for more information.
The following resources can help:
Safe Drinking Water Hotline 1-800-426-4791
National Radon Helpline 1-800-55RADON (1-800-557-2366)
Most of us are unaware of radon and the health hazards that are associated with the radioactive gas. Please share this important information with your family, friends, neighbors and co-workers.
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Environmental Protection Agency: Radon