- What Your Test Results Mean
The average indoor radon level is estimated to be about 1.3 pCi/L, and about 0.4 pCi/L of radon is normally found in the outside air. The U.S. Congress has set a long-term goal that indoor radon levels be no more than outdoor levels. While this goal is not yet technologically achievable in all cases, most homes today can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.
Sometimes short-term tests are less definitive about whether or not your home is above 4 pCi/L. This can happen when your results are close to 4 pCi/L. For example, if the average of your two short-term test results is 4.1 pCi/L, there is about a 50% chance that your year-round average is somewhat below 4 pCi/L. However, EPA believes that any radon exposure carries some risk - no level of radon is safe. Even radon levels below 4 pCi/L pose some risk, and you can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.
If your living patterns change and you begin occupying a lower level of your home (such as a basement) you should retest your home on that level. Even if your test result is below 4 pCi/L, you may want to test again sometime in the future.
- Radon and Home Sales
More and more, home buyers and renters are asking about radon levels before they buy or rent a home. Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to deal with radon and other issues. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them. Fix a problem if it exists so it won't complicate your home sale. If you are planning to move you can also use the results of two short-term tests done side-by-side (four inches apart) to decide whether to fix your home.
During home sales:
Buyers often ask if a home has been tested, and if elevated levels were reduced.
Buyers frequently want tests made by someone who is not involved in the home sale. Your State radon office can assist you in identifying a qualified tester.
Buyers might want to know the radon levels in areas of the home (like a basement they plan to finish) that the seller might not otherwise test.
Today many homes are built to prevent radon from coming in. Your State or local area may require these radon-resistant construction features. Radon-resistant construction features usually keep radon levels in new homes below 2 pCi/L. If you are buying or renting a new home, ask the owner or builder if it has radon-resistant features. The EPA recommends building new homes with radon-resistant features in high radon potential (Zone 1) areas. For more information, refer to EPA's Map of Radon Zones Figure 168 and other useful EPA documents on radon-resistant new construction, or visit www.epa.gov/radon/index.html. Even if built radon-resistant, every new home should be tested for radon after occupancy. If you have a test result of 4 pCi/L or more, you can have a qualified mitigator easily add a vent fan to an existing passive system for about $300 and further reduce the radon level in your home.
- Radon in Water
The radon in your home's indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply. Compared to radon entering the home through water, radon entering your home through the soil is usually a much larger risk.
The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.
Radon in your home's water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.
If you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be easily fixed. Your home's water supply can be treated in two ways. Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use and are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.
For more information, call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html. If your water comes from a private well, you can also contact your State radon office.
- How to Lower the Radon Level in Your Home
Since there is no known safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the radon level in your home. A variety of methods are used to reduce radon in your home. In some cases, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. In other cases, simple systems using pipes and fans may be used to reduce radon. Such systems, known as soil suction, do not require major changes to your home. These systems remove radon gas from below the concrete floor and the foundation before it can enter the home. Similar systems can also be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.
The cost of making repairs to reduce radon 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 like painting or having a new hot water heater installed. The average house costs about $1,200 for a contractor to fix, although this can range from about $800 to about $2,500. The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.
- Radon and Home Renovations
If you are planning any major structural renovation, such as converting an unfinished basement area into living space, it is especially important to test the area for radon before you begin the renovation. If your test results indicate a radon problem radon-resistant techniques can be inexpensively included as part of the renovation. Because major renovations can change the level of radon in any home, always test again after work is completed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. Most soil suction radon reduction systems include a monitor that will indicate whether the system is operating properly. In addition, it's a good idea to retest your home every two years to be sure radon levels remain low.
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. Check with your State radon office for names of qualified or State certified radon contractors in your area. You can also contact private radon proficiency programs for lists of privately certified radon professionals in your area. For more information on private radon proficiency programs, visit www.epa.gov/radon/proficiency.html. Picking someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs - you may want to get references and more than one estimate. If you are considering fixing your home's radon problem yourself, you should first contact your State radon office for guidance and assistance.
- The Risk of Living With Radon
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.
Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).
Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. Stop smoking and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk.
Children have been reported to have greater risk than adults of certain types of cancer from radiation, but there are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.
Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:
How much radon is in your home
The amount of time you spend in your home
Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked
- Some Common Myths About Radon
MYTH: Scientists are not sure that radon really is a problem.
FACT: Although some scientists dispute the precise number of deaths due to radon, all the major health organizations (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association) agree with estimates that radon causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths every year. This is especially true among smokers, since the risk to smokers is much greater than to non-smokers.
MYTH: Radon testing is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
FACT: Radon testing is inexpensive and easy -- it should take only a little of your time.
MYTH: Radon testing devices are not reliable and are difficult to find.
FACT: Reliable testing devices are available through the mail, in hardware stores and other retail outlets. Call your State radon office for a list of radon device companies or visit our radon proficiency program web site for information on two privately run national radon proficiency programs.
MYTH: Homes with radon problems can't be fixed.
FACT: There are solutions to radon problems in homes. Thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon problems in their homes. Radon levels can be readily lowered for $500 to $2,500. Call your State radon office or visit our radon proficiency program web site for information on how to acquire the services of a qualified professional.
MYTH: Radon affects only certain kinds of homes.
FACT: House construction can affect radon levels. However, radon can be a problem in homes of all types: old homes, new homes, drafty homes, insulated homes, homes with basements and homes without basements.
MYTH: Radon is only a problem in certain parts of the country.
FACT: High radon levels have been found in every State. Radon problems do vary from area to area, but the only way to know the home's radon level is to test.
MYTH: A neighbor's test result is a good indication of whether your home has a problem.
FACT: It's not. Radon levels vary from home to home. The only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to test it.
Figure 171: A neighbor's test result is NOT a good indication of whether your home has a problem!! Radon levels vary from home to home. (So don't let any Realtors or sellers tell you anything different!)
MYTH: Everyone should test their water for radon.
FACT: While radon gets into some homes through the water, it is important to first test the air in the home for radon. If you find high levels and your water comes from a well, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1 800-426-4791, or your State radon office for more information.
MYTH: It is difficult to sell homes where radon problems have been discovered.
FACT: Where radon problems have been fixed, home sales have not been blocked or frustrated. The added protection is some times a good selling point.
MYTH: I've lived in my home for so long, it doesn't make sense to take action now.
FACT: You will reduce your risk of lung cancer when you reduce radon levels, even if you've lived with a radon problem for a long time.
MYTH: Short-term tests cannot be used for making a decision about whether to fix your home.
FACT: A short-term test, followed by a second short-term test may be used to decide whether to fix your home. However, the closer the average of your two short-term tests is to 4 pCi/L, the less certain you can be about whether your year-round average is above or below that level. Keep in mind that radon levels below 4 pCi/L still pose some risk. Radon levels can be reduced in some homes to 2 pCi/L or below.
State and Regional Radon and Indoor Air Quality Contacts
National Radon Hotline: 1-800-SOS-RADON
For some other Indoor Air Hotlines to contact: www.epa.gov/iaq/iaqxline.html
For more information on how to reduce your radon health risk, call your State radon office.
If you plan to make repairs yourself, be sure to contact your State radon office.
- SURGEON GENERAL HEALTH ADVISORY
"Indoor radon gas is a national health problem. Radon causes thousands of deaths each year. Millions of homes have elevated radon levels. Homes should be tested for radon. When elevated levels are confirmed, the problem should be corrected."