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Guide to Protecting Your Family From Radon

  • EPA Recommends:
  • Test your home for radon -- it's easy and inexpensive.

  • Fix your home if your radon level is 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.

  • Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced.

radon risk bar chart

Figure 169: Radon is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.

* Radon is estimated to cause between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year according to the National Academy of Sciences 1998 data.  The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from 2001 National Safety Council reports.

 

  • Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas.
  • You can't see radon. And you can't smell it or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home. Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That's because when you breathe air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. 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.

  • Radon can be found all over the U.S.
  • Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. Radon can be found all over the U.S. It can get into any type of building - homes, offices, and schools - and result in a high indoor radon level. But you and your family are most likely to get your greatest exposure at home. That's where you spend most of your time.

  • You should test for radon.
  • Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. EPA also recommends testing in schools. Testing is inexpensive and easy - it should only take a few minutes of your time. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon (see How to Test Your Home section).

  • You can fix a radon problem.
  • There are simple ways to fix a radon problem that aren't too costly. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.

  • New homes can be built with radon-resistant features.
  • Radon-resistant construction techniques can be effective in preventing radon entry.  When installed properly and completely, these simple and inexpensive techniques can help reduce indoor radon levels in homes.  In addition, installing them at the time of construction makes it easier and less expensive to reduce radon levels further if these passive techniques don't reduce radon levels to below 4 pCi/L.  Every new home should be tested after occupancy, even if it was built radon-resistant.

  • How Does Radon Get Into Your Home?
  • 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 (see Radon in Water section). In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

 

Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels. Elevated levels of radon gas have been found in homes in your State. Contact your State radon office for general information about radon in your area. While radon problems may be more common in some areas, any home may have a problem. The only way to know about your home is to test. Radon can be a problem in schools and workplaces, too. Ask your State radon office about radon problems in schools, daycare and childcare facilities, and workplaces in your area.

house cutaway

Figure 170: How Radon Gets Into Homes

1. Cracks in solid floors

2. Construction joints

3. Cracks in walls

4. Gaps in suspended floors

5. Gaps around service pipes

6. Cavities inside walls

7. The water supply

 

  • How to Test Your Home

You can't see radon, but it's not hard to find out if you have a radon problem in your home. All you need to do is test for radon. Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time. The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picoCuries per liter of air, " or "pCi/L. " Sometimes test results are expressed in Working Levels (WL) rather than picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). There are many kinds of low-cost  "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets.  If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire a qualified tester to do the testing for you.  You should contact your State radon office about obtaining a list of qualified testers.  You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area.  For links and information, visit www.epa.gov/radon/proficiency.html.

  • There are Two General Ways to Test for Radon
  • SHORT-TERM TESTING: The quickest way to test is with short-term tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for two days to 90 days, depending on the device. "Charcoal canisters, " "alpha track, " "electret ion chamber, " "continuous monitors, " and "charcoal liquid scintillation" detectors are most commonly used for short-term testing. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. If you need results quickly, however, a short-term test followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home.

  • LONG-TERM TESTING: Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days. "Alpha track " and "electret" detectors are commonly used for this type of testing. A long-term test will give you a reading that is more likely to tell you your home's year-round average radon level than a short-term test.

  • How To Use a Test Kit

Follow the instructions that come with your test kit. If you are doing a short-term test, close your windows and outside doors and keep them closed as much as possible during the test. Heating and air-conditioning system fans that re-circulate air may be operated.  Do not operate fans or other machines which bring in air from outside.  Fans that are part of a radon-reduction system or small exhaust fans operating only for short periods of time may run during the test.  If you are doing a short-term test lasting just 2 or 3 days, be sure to close your windows and outside doors at least 12 hours before beginning the test, too. You should not conduct short-term tests lasting just 2 or 3 days during unusually severe storms or periods of unusually high winds.  The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor). It should be put in a room that is used regularly (like a living room, playroom, den or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won't be disturbed - away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls. Leave the kit in place for as long as the package says. Once you've finished the test, reseal the package and send it to the lab specified on the package right away for analysis. You should receive your test results within a few weeks.

  • EPA Recommends the Following Testing Steps
  • Step 1.  Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher) take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.

  • Step 2.  Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test:

  • For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, take a long-term test.

  • If you need results quickly, take a second short-term test.

The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should take a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately.

  • Step 3.  If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher).  If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher (0.02 Working Levels [WL] or higher).

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