Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of radium deposited in the earth. During the process of the breakdown a molecule is released and the recoil forces the radon into the surrounding ground water. The gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and deadly. The average radon levels in North America are low but great variations do exist. The states in the northern half of the country have the highest levels, with certain Wisconsin counties being far above healthy standards.
Radon enters the house through aeration from the water supply or through the release from the soil by penetration of the building’s foundation. The latter is more common in our state. A few facts from Radon.com:
- According to the US EPA, nearly 1 in 3 homes checked in seven states had screening levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure.
- A family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family was standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site.
- An elementary school student that spends 8 hours per day and 180 days per year in a classroom with 4 pCi/l of radon will receive nearly 10 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows at the edge of a nuclear power plant.
- Most U.S. EPA lifetime safety standards for carcinogens are established based on a 1 in 100,000 risk of death. Most scientists agree that the risk of death for radon at 4 pCi/l is approximately 1 in 100. At this level, radon carries approximately 1000 times the risk of death as any other carcinogen. It is important to note that the action level is not a safe level,as there are no safe levels of radon gas.
Biologists believe that radon itself, which results from the breakdown of radium, is relatively harmless. It is radon’s decay products that irradiate the bronchial tree leaving a person who inhales radon at higher risk of lung cancer. In fact, in the state of Wisconsin, this gas is now being shown as the number one cause of lung cancer. It is the number two cause of lung cancer overall in America. Even scarier, symptoms of radon gas are non-existent until the diagnosis of lung cancer is received. Radon-induced lung cancer costs the United States over $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care costs. (National Cancer Institute – Oster, Colditz & Kelley, 1984).
Because the symptoms of radon gas are so difficult to detect before a disease process begins in the body, many home inspectors recommend radon testing of a home before purchase to evaluate the level of radon in the air and water supply. The best offense against this deadly gas is DEFENSE. Step one is to find out if your home is at higher risk for radon by having your home air tested. There are more than 700 companies that offer radon-measuring devices. Many of these companies provide detectors that are certified by the Radon Measurement Proficiency Program of the EPA. These test kits should be used in two different areas of the homes living space. The test kits are left open for the specified amount of time then sent back to the manufacturer who will send you a report. The kits are around $20-$30 and can be found at your local hardware store. Mitigation specialists, contractors who determine the best method to get rid of the gas in your home, may recommend sump pump covers, specially designed ventilation systems, not using the basement as a primary living space or even radon water filters.
I feel strongly that not enough people know about the deadly effects of radon gas and because the state of Wisconsin is one of the highest levels in the country, it is extremely important that we all nullify the risks and take the first step by purchasing a kit to find out the levels in our homes. This is a very easy way to significantly decrease health risks for you and your family.