You probably do whatever you can to make sure your family is protected. You make sure your kids eat a healthy diet, limit their time in front of the TV and computer, and talk about the importance of personal safety. They wear bike helmets, follow the buddy system and go to bed at a reasonable time. But you may be forgetting one important safety concern that could be present in your home without you realizing it.
What Is Radon?
Radon gas is a cancer-causing, invisible, odorless gas caused by the breakdown of uranium in soil. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that radon exposure causes about 21,000 deaths per year. As uranium in soil breaks down, it eventually becomes radon gas. Radon gas enters your home through the slab, crawl space or your basement, just to name a few ways. As the radon gas itself breaks down, it emits a small Alpha radiation particle that can be inhaled. Once in your lungs, this particle can decay, causing a small amount of damage. On it’s own this small amount of damage isn’t enough to be deadly—it’s the repeated, prolonged exposure to radon on a daily basis in our own homes, schools and businesses that is dangerous.
How Do I Know if My Home Has Radon?
The EPA has created a map of radon zones for the United States that assigns predicted radon levels to each county in the country. Generally, the upper West, Midwest, the East and the Mid-Atlantic regions may fall into high ranges of radon, although homes in every region have tested high for radon. Fortunately, you don’t have to guess about your home. Testing can determine the radon level in your home.
Radon testing is inexpensive and easy. You can do it yourself, or you can choose to hire a professional to conduct the test for you. If you are in the process of selling your home, realize that more and more home buyers are requesting the radon levels of homes they are looking at, and they generally want to see that the testing and any necessary radon mitigation was conducted by an impartial party to the sale of the house.
Short-term testing takes only about 48 hours and involves taking an air sample and then mailing it into a lab for the results.
Long-term testing is conducted for 90 days or longer and gives you a more accurate reading of the year-round radon level in your home.
Radon is measured in “picocuries per liter of air,” or pCi/L for short. Although no level is safe, the EPA considers a home to be high if it has a level of 4.0 pCi/L or higher. Other agencies, however, including the World Health Organization (WHO), consider any level above 2.7 to be cause for concern. Based on that the National Center for Healthy Housing advises mitigation for levels above 2.O pCi/L. If a test comes back high, you’ll want to take another test to double check the results and probably hire a radon expert to conduct radon mitigation, should it be necessary.
The good news is that generally even high levels can be brought down to safe levels.
It’s important to be informed about radon and to have your home checked for this invisible, deadly intruder.