Get a Radon Monitor!

The Insidious Indoor Pollutant May Be Creeping Into Your Home

by Masha Vodyanik, age 16

Radon is a poisonous gas often found in homes. It causes lung cancer and is responsible for about 21,000 deaths per year in the U.S. That’s about 4,000 more deaths per year than caused by drunk driving and 19,000 more than are caused by house fires.

Radon is created by the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil. From the soil, radon seeps into the water we drink and air we breathe. It can be found in buildings all over the U.S., such as homes, schools, and offices.

This gas is extremely insidious. You can’t smell or taste radon, but inhaling it is potentially deadly. When you breathe radon-contaminated air, radioactive particles enter your lungs where they continue to decay. At a certain point during their breakdown, these particles release bursts of energy that can damage lung tissue and may lead to lung cancer.

The lung cancer-radon connection depends on how much radon is present and the amount of time a person spends in a radon-contaminated area. Smoking also presents a large risk of developing lung cancer. Lung cancer rates for smokers who were also exposed to large amounts of radon are very high.

Radon primarily enters a house through cracks in the foundation, or less commonly, through the water system. Homes served by private well systems have a larger risk of radon-water poisoning. Households supplied by municipal water systems are less likely to have radon poisoning through water, because of regulation systems in place.

Radon mostly gets through cracks in walls and floors along with gaps around service pipes. One out of 15 homes in the U.S. has above average radon levels. The only way to know if a house is contaminated with radon is by testing.

There are two types of testing: long-term and short-term. Both are fairly easy and affordable. Short-term testing consists of a detector that stays in a home for 90 days and is then sent out for testing. Long-term tests work similarly to carbon monoxide detectors. Monitors can be placed in your home year round and measure the radon levels throughout the entire year. Long-term detectors are more accurate because levels may differ from season to season.

Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter or pCi/L. Picocuries are the general way of measuring radioactivity. The average outdoor radon level is 0.4 pCi/L and the average indoor radon level is 1.3 pCi/L. However, if radon levels pass 4 pCi/L, the chances of someone getting lung cancer rise significantly. If radon levels are above average a mitigation system can be set up with pipes venting the gas under the house to the outside.

While radon in your home can be a dangerous and cancer-causing threat, it is manageable.