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Are My Radon Levels Dangerously High?

radon

During the pandemic, people have been spending more time in their homes. This has prompted many of us to have a newfound appreciation for our living spaces, but with this appreciation comes curiosity about indoor air quality concerns.  I’ve noticed that requests for radon testing in particular have increased in the past few months.  Some of this increase can be attributed to a busier real estate market due to the traditionally busy spring market being pushed further out in the year. However, a lot of it comes from homeowners converting their basement to a work-from-home space and realizing that they never had their home tested or it has been several years since their last radon test. Some results have shocked property owners, which begs the question, “are my radon levels dangerously high?”

Radon is Radioactive: A Little Background

Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that comes from the soil. It is a byproduct of decaying uranium that is naturally present in the soil. Radon levels vary considerably throughout the country. Three factors that could impact the radon levels in your home are: (1) if there happens to be more radon naturally in your area  (2) how well sealed the foundation is and (3) the presence of negative pressurization.  Radon is radioactive which means it can change into atoms of another element, called radon progeny.  These atoms are “electrically charged and can attach themselves to tiny dust particles in the indoor air. These dust particles can easily be inhaled into the lung and can adhere to the lining of the lung. The deposited atoms decay, or change, by emitting a type of radiation called alpha radiation, which has the potential to damage cells in the lung.  Alpha radiations disrupt DNA of these lung cells. This DNA damage has the potential to be one stop in a chain of events that lead to cancer” (https://www.nap.edu/read/5499/chapter/2). 

Radon Levels 

A number to remember is 4.0 picocuries/liter of air. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established this threshold to determine if your property is considered to have elevated radon levels. Anything below 4.0 picocuries/liter is considered to be a “pass” and anything at or above 4.0 is a “fail”.  If we find that your radon levels are at or above 4.0, we always recommend that a radon mitigation system be installed. The World Health Organization recommends a national annual average concentration reference level of 2.7 picocuries/liter. Because many consider radon to have no threshold below which is harmless, everyone should always strive to reduce radon levels as much as reasonably possible. 

What if we find very high levels of radon in your home? How does that impact your chances of getting lung cancer? According to The National Research Council, specifically the Committee on Health Risks of Exposure to Radon (BEIR VI), the relationship between radon levels and developing lung cancer increase linearly as exposure increases.  If you double the radon concentration in your home, then you double the risk, when you halve the radon concentration, then you cut the risk in half. 

Conclusion

The intention of this blog post is not to cause alarm.  It is intended to provide you with valuable information regarding the safety of your indoor air quality, especially at these times when we are spending more time indoors.  If you have not tested your property for radon, we strongly recommend performing a radon test.  Or if you know you have elevated levels and have been putting off installing a radon mitigation system, now may be the time to contact radon mitigation companies that are capable of installing the system.  It is also strongly recommended to perform a radon test after the mitigation system is installed to ensure that the system is working properly. Check this off your to-do list while we navigate through this pandemic and keep your lungs happy and healthy. 

Ian Cull

Ian Cull

Ian Cull is a nationally recognized expert in the field of indoor air quality. He is the Chief Science Officer of Indoor Science, a company he started in 2004. He speaks around the world on air quality topics and is a training provider of the Indoor Air Quality Association. Mr. Cull is a Licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH). His degree is in Environmental Engineering from the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign. Mr. Cull has developed 50 air quality related courses for the IAQA University and is the author of the book, “Fundamentals of Mold Remediation”. In his words… “Besides being passionate about indoor air quality, I enjoy cycling, music, the Chicago Bulls, and having fun with my three kids.”