Radon in Our Homes
Radon is a radioactive gas that is found in the earth's rock and soil, formed by the natural breakdown of radium, which is itself a decay product of uranium.
As it decays, it forms radioactive by-products called either "progeny", "decay products" or "daughters" which, if inhaled, can cause lung tissue damage and lung cancer.
It is an invisible and odorless deadly gas when it accumulates to high levels inside homes or other structures.
Indoor exposure to this radioactive gas is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the United States. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths with 87%.
Radium, which releases radon, is common in the earth's soil and rocks containing high levels of uranium, such as graphite, phosphate, shale and pitchblende.
The gas percolates up through porous soils under the home or building and enters through gaps and cracks in the foundation or in the insulation and through pipes, sumps, drains, walls or other openings.
Water is also another possible pathway of the gas into the home. Water, when in contact with rock containing uranium, absorbs the gas and is then carried into the home and released into the air in household dishwashers, faucets, showers, or washing machines.
Indoor levels are affected by the soil composition under and around the house and by the ease with which it can travel into the home.
Short-term detectors measure radon levels for 2 to 90 days, depending on the device. "Charcoal canisters," "alpha track," "electrets ion chamber," "continuous monitors," and "charcoal liquid scintillation" detectors are the most common used for short-term testing.
Long-term detectors determine the average concentration and remain in your home for more than 90 days. "Alpha track" and "electrets" detectors are commonly used for this type of testing.
Because gas levels can vary from day to day and month to month, a long-term test is a more accurate indicator of average levels than a short-term test for your house..
Both tests are relatively easy to use and inexpensive and can be done by yourself or through a professional.
A variety of methods can be used to reduce indoor radon levels, from sealing cracks in floors and walls to changing the flow of air into the home.
Simple systems known as sub-slab depressurization use pipes and fans to remove gas from beneath the concrete floor and foundation before it can enter the home.
Other methods may also work in your home depending on the design of your home, amount of gas concentration and other factors.
Lowering high levels may require expert technical knowledge and special skills from a professional contractor (RCP) who can study the problem in your home and help you choose the right treatment method.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has indoor radon levels at or above the EPA's recommended action guideline of four picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) on a yearly average. The only way to determine if there is a problem in your home or building is by measuring the level.
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