Protecting yourself and your family from radon

As summer fades and the clocks turn forward, many of us are spending more time inside our homes with friends and family. While this is a great time of year for getting cozy in the living room with a good book or movie, its also a good time to become more aware of indoor environmental and health risks, especially radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is especially common in parts of the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains. Radon typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. While radon from soil gas is the main cause of problems, radon can also enter the home through well water. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up in dangerous concentrations. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.

One of the biggest challenges with radon is that it is difficult to detect. You can't see radon. And you can't smell or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home. Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer. And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.

How Does Radon Get Into Your Home?

Any home may have a radon problem

Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can 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.

Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. Sometimes radon enters the home through well water. In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

Radon exposure can pose a significant long-term health risk to you and your family. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

So what can you do? 

The first step is testing the air in your home to see if you have a problem. EPA recommends that you use a simple testkit to see if there are high radon levels inside your home. There are many kinds of low-cost "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail, in hardware stores and other retail outlets. You can also hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you.

RADON GETS IN THROUGH:

  • Cracks in solid floors 
  • Construction joints
  • Cracks in walls 
  • Gaps in suspended floors 
  • Gaps around service pipes
  • Cavities inside walls
  • The water supply

Radon exposure can pose a significant long-term health risk to you and your family. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

So what can you do? 

The first step is testing the air in your home to see if you have a problem. EPA recommends that you use a simple testkit to see if there are high radon levels inside your home. There are many kinds of low-cost "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail, in hardware stores and other retail outlets. You can also hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you.

Your test results will let you know if you need to take action to reduce radon inside your home. The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picocuries per liter of air," or "pCi/L." In general, if your radon levels are 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher, you should install a system to reduce radon levels. Before you do anything, EPA recommends that you consult your tribal environmental office for information about radon risk and the availability of kits and other resources in your area.

There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system, known

as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces.

The cost of reducing radon in your home depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs. The cost to fix can vary widely; consult with your state radon office or get one or more estimates from qualified mitigators. The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.

Lowering high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. You should use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems. A qualified contractor can study the radon problem in your home and help you pick the right treatment method.If you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be fixed.

Most areas in the Rocky Mountains and Great Plains are classified as "Zone 1" for radon, which indicates a high potential for indoor radon problems. EPA's map of radon zones can be accessed a http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html  Just because your home is in high radon potential area does not mean that you have high radon levels inside your home. EPA recommends that all households check indoor radon levels with a simple test kit.

For more information, visit EPA's main radon page at www.epa.gov radon Includes links to publications, hotlines, private radon proficiency programs and more.

Go to http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html  for a citizens Guide to Radon.

Radon Hotlines for more information and how to get test kits.

1-800-SOS-RADON (1-800-767-7236)
National Radon Hotline. Purchase radon test kits by phone.

1-800-55RADON (1-800-557-2366)
National Radon Helpline. Get live help for your radon questions.

1-800-644-6999
National Radon Fix-It Line. For general information on fixing or reducing the radon level in your home.

1-800-426-4791
Safe Drinking Water Hotline. Operated under contract to EPA. For information on testing, treatment, radon in water, and drinking water standards.

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