Radon: What You Need to Know
A naturally formed gas resulting from a radioactive element, such as uranium, which is commonly found in rocks and soil, breaking down and travelling to other places via air and water. Radon is similar to carbon monoxide, in that it is colorless and odorless, therefore not detectable by human senses.
Where is radon found?
Radon can be found in every country, high levels of radon have been measured in every US state. And, depending on the composition of rocks and soil, the levels can drastically differ by neighborhood, city, and region. It moves through particles of soil and rock and can accumulate under the slabs and foundations of homes where it can easily enter into the living space through construction cracks and openings.
Typically, higher levels of radon are found in homes and buildings with highest concentrations located in basements and crawl spaces. In other words, in areas of the home or building that is closest to the Earth’s soil and rocks. Consequently, people who spend more time in basement-level rooms in their homes or offices may have higher levels of exposure.
Lower levels are found outside in the air or water (lakes, rivers and ponds).
How does radon exposure occur?
Most radon exposure occurs in homes and buildings, caused by the gas entering through cracks in the foundation and floors, at construction joints, around electrical wiring, plumbing, and other openings.
Risk can also occur from exposure to certain types of building materials, especially those made from natural substances, such as wallboard and concrete. While many of these materials emit low levels of radon, this may not always be the case. For instance, higher levels of radon have been found in granite countertops in certain cases, but the EPA claims it’s doubtful these levels are higher than the levels emitted from nearby rocks and soil.
The effects of radon.
When radon gas breaks down into solid radioactive elements they can attach to dust and other small particles in the air, where they can be breathed into your lungs and lodge in the linings, damaging lung tissue and possibly causing lung cancer in the future.
- U.S. Surgeon General says radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country after smoking
- Exposure to radon does not cause short-term issues, such as coughing or respiratory symptoms
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Academy of Sciences (NAS), state long-term exposure is directly responsible for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, many who have never smoked.
- Not everyone who is exposed to high levels of radon will get lung cancer during their lifetime
Two types of home radon detection kits are available: short-term, which is left in place for several days, and long-term, which collects samples for at least three months, providing a more accurate result. The EPA recommends that testing be conducted in all homes and units located below the third floor – including new homes labeled as “radon-resistant.”
You can also hire a professional radon expert/company by visiting the EPA website at www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html. If you live in a condominium or if your community is professionally managed, ask your property management company for a referral.
The EPA estimates that approximately one in 15 U.S. homes has an elevated level of radon -- 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, compared to 1.3 pCi/L, the average indoor level. If the short-term test returns a high radon level, follow up with a long-term test to confirm. If the results are still high, take steps to mitigate the problem. Only sealing cracks in walls and floors is not usually enough.
The EPA recommends hiring a qualified contractor with the right skills and experience to effectively set up the mitigation system – after all, if not handled properly, it can cause additional risks.
Active soil depressurization (ASD) is a proven, cost-effective and reliable technique. It collects the radon from beneath the building before it enters.
One of the most common and effective mitigation methods involves setting up a sub-slab depressurization (SSD) system. SSD technology pulls any radon gas from the soil beneath the foundation and vents it outside via fan-powered exhaust.
For more information
Minnesota Radon Building Code: www.fixradon.com/publications/MN-state-radon-code.pdf
Visit the EPA website for comprehensive information, guidance, pamphlets, referrals and other valuable resources about radon. http://www.epa.gov/radon/consumers-guide-radon-reduction-how-fix-your-home.