What is radon and should I be concerned?
So What is Radon?
Radon is a gas that is formed by the breakdown of uranium in the soil. Uranium is a natural radioactive material found in rock and soil throughout the United States. The reason that radon is of concern is that it is a cancer-causing natural gas that you can't see, smell or taste.
Although radon is found in outdoor air, it becomes more of an issue when it enters a home through the basement walls or floor. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home can trap radon inside, where the concentrations can then build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements. Concrete-block walls are particularly porous to radon.
Factors that affect radon levels in a home include:
• The amount of uranium in the ground around the home.
• The entry points available into your home (cracks in the foundation, crawl spaces, etc.).
• The way your home is ventilated.
Since Radon is a radioactive gas, when it's in your home it can pose a danger to your family's health. Specifically, Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and is the second leading cause of lung cancer in Canada and the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the US, making it second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer.
All major national and international organizations that have examined the health risks of radon agree that it is a lung carcinogen.
How Do I Know If I Have Radon in My Home?
The only way to know if your home has radon is to have it tested. Commercial services, some laboratories and some inspection companies offer testing services to homeowners who wish to measure radon levels in their homes. As with any service, it is important to use only businesses that have completed the necessary training and certification process. Once you select a testing company, it should provide you with a report illustrating the levels of Radon in your home.
In the US, radon is measured in units called "pico curies per liter" (pCi/I). (A pico curie is one-trillionth of a Curie, which is an international measurement unit of radioactivity.) The US EPA has established the "action level" for determining when to address the radon in your home, school or work place as being 4 pCi/I.
What Do I Do If I Have High Radon Levels in My Home?
If you have had your home tested for radon gas and the results show that the level is above 4 pCi/I, then you should take action to reduce the levels in your home. You should be aware that such actions do not necessarily have to be expensive, but because there is some risk at any level, homeowners may want to reduce their exposure to radon, regardless of levels tested.
Some of the steps you can take to reduce radon levels in your home include:
• Renovating existing basement floors, particularly earth floors.
• Sealing cracks and openings in walls and floors, and around pipes and drains.
• Ventilating the sub-floor of basement floors.
After you've completed any repairs or upgrades, it is recommended that the home be tested again to confirm that the work has addressed the radon issue.
For additional information, homeowners are directed to the U.S. EPA website which offers excellent publications and other resources on radon.