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Green Building News

EPA Issues Radon Reminder

Warning that radon kills thousands of people annually, the government agency urges more people to test their homes

A simple kit tests for radon, an odorless gas produced by decaying uranium and radium in soil and rocks. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.
Image Credit: National Institutes of Health via Wikimedia Commons

The Environmental Protection Agency is hoping that more people will take steps to reduce their exposure to radon, a naturally occurring, odorless gas that kills more than 21,000 Americans every year.

January is “National Radon Action Month,” and the EPA has posted a variety of links to information on radon and how to lower risks from exposure. Radon is produced by the breakdown of radium and uranium in the soil and gets into houses through cracks in the foundation or via well water. Health officials estimate that one in 15 homes in the U.S. have elevated levels of radon in indoor air.

Radon’s only known health effect is lung cancer. Radon substantially increases the risk of lung cancer among smokers, and it kills nearly 3,000 people a year who have never smoked.

The World Health Organization says that radon is responsible for up to 15 percent of all lung cancer cases worldwide.

The “action level” is not a safe level

Concentrations of radon can be tested with a simple kit. (Home Depot sells kits for about $10, and they’re also available from a number of online sources.) The EPA recommends that homeowners take steps to reduce radon levels when tests show concentrations of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in indoor air. But because there is no known “safe level” of exposure, the EPA also suggests homeowners consider remedial steps when radon levels are between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.

“Unfortunately, many Americans presume that because the action level is 4 pCi/L, a radon level of less than 4 pCi/L is ‘safe,’” the EPA says. “This perception is altogether too common in the residential real estate market. In managing any risk, we should be concerned with the greatest risk. For most Americans, their greatest exposure to radon is in their homes; especially in rooms that are below grade (e.g., basements), rooms that are in contact with the ground and those rooms immediately above them.”

Radon mitigation systems typically pull radon from inside the house and vent it above the roofline. (The EPA has published a guide describing a number of mitigation techniques and also offers advice on choosing a radon mitigation contractor.

For more information on radon mitigation, see Martin Holladay’s article, “All About Radon.”

4 Comments

  1. Flitch Plate | | #1

    Save us from regulatory fools.
    The EPA is experimenting with the lives of its own children. GBA, you should be ashamed to be an enabler. Repeatedly reiterating the EPA’s foolhardy rules does not make a bad solution a good one. If the primary pathway of contamination by radon is the lungs (and it is), what kind of idiocy recommends delivering a gas that is heavier than air into the air around your house so it can descend around your house, though open windows and into the fresh air stream of your E/HRV’s.

    All that is going on when implementing the EPA method is pushing radon around the living spaces, entraining it for longer and prolonged periods than it would be otherwise, and guaranteeing its bioavailability to your families.

    “Radon mitigation systems typically pull radon from inside the house and vent it above the roofline."

  2. Bill Dietze | | #2

    What bugs me...
    Ok, a lot of things bug me, but today it's the "there is no safe level" statement with no numbers attached. There is no safe level for living, so far life seem to be 100% fatal. An asinine statement ...but I'm an engineer so give me numbers.

    Numbers (I don't know the studies behind them, but numbers at least) at http://www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html. Mortality rate seems to vary linearly with radon level (I thought that interesting). If 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to 4 pCi/L over a lifetime, then "About 7 people could get lung cancer". So about a 0.7% risk that my death will be that one - yet I still drive and ride in cars (about 1.4% of people who died in 2010 were in vehicle accidents, for more numbers see http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf).

  3. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #3

    Radon is coming to get you...
    Radon is coming to get you... check your darkest closets.

  4. Flitch Plate | | #4

    No controls for Polonium 210 ... makes radon pale
    http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Radioactive_Lead_and_Polonium-210_in_tobacco_smoke

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