What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in the rock and soil. It’s both radioactive and cancer-causing. Unfortunately, you can’t see, smell, or taste it. The amount of radon gas in the air is measured in picocuries per liter of air, or pCi/L.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon gas decays into radioactive particles. These tiny particles can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down, these particles release small bursts of energy that can damage the cells that line your lungs and lead to lung cancer.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second-leading cause among smokers, according to the EPA. Radon is estimated to cause more than 20,000 deaths in the United States every year.
Exposure to radon in adults and children is also suspected to cause an increase in the risk of leukemia and Alzheimer’s, but the evidence is not yet conclusive. Some scientific studies indicate children may be more sensitive to radon, which may be due to their higher respiration rate and rapidly dividing cells.
Lung cancer typically doesn’t have any symptoms in its early stages. When symptoms do start to appear, they can include:
- Chest pains
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
- Persistent cough
- Coughing up blood
- Hoarseness or voice changes
- Trouble swallowing
- Swelling of neck and face
- Weakness and pain in the hand, arm, or shoulder
- Knee pain
- Chronic headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Bad breath
- Yellowing of fingernails or toenails
- Weight loss
- Unexplained back pain
- Elevated calcium levels
- Recurring respiratory infections
- Bone pain
Lung cancer is often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are present in other conditions. If you are coughing up blood, you might be misdiagnosed with tuberculosis. Shortness of breath may be misdiagnosed as COPD or asthma. A nagging cough is sometimes misdiagnosed as infection, pneumonia, or bronchitis.
Sadly, this was the case for one of our clients. Her advice was to always get a second opinion.
According to Diagnosis Delayed, other conditions that can cause misdiagnosis include:
- Acid reflux
- Encysted lung effusion
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Lung abscesses
- Lung nodules
- Pulmonary embolism
- Thoracic Hodgkin disease
Radon can enter your home through many different pathways, such as:
- Cracks in concrete floors
- Cold joints (floor-wall joints) where the concrete floor meets the foundation wall
- Plumbing pipe penetrations
- Exposed soil in crawl spaces, under bathtubs and showers, or unsealed sump baskets
- Open cores at the top of block walls
- Water control drainage systems
Low or negative air pressure in your home causes radon to be drawn in through the pathways mentioned above. The EPA has conducted studies that conclude that sealing alone is not a very effective method for lowering radon levels. Radon easily penetrates many common building materials such as paper, paint, sheetrock, concrete, mortar, wood, and insulation.
One factor that will typically cause increased radon levels is known as the stack effect. The stack effect occurs during the winter months when warm air rises and escapes through windows and openings at the top of your home. As that air escapes, more air is drawn in to replace it. This is where we run into a radon problem, as some of the air drawn into your home contains radon.
Have you ever noticed that if you open a basement window in the winter, outside air will flow in, and if you open a window on the upper floor, air will flow out? This effect actually reverses during the summer months and is one factor that usually leads to lower radon levels in the summer.
These other common factors can also increase the radon levels in your home:
- Strong winds
- Heavy rain
- Frozen ground
- Combustion appliances such as furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces
- Dryers, exhaust fans, and vents
- Whole house fans
- Open windows
- Improperly maintained air exchangers or heat recovery ventilators
- Plugged mechanical intake screens for make-up air, combustion air, and air exchangers
Testing is the only way to know for sure if you have radon in your home. The EPA recommends testing for radon every two years. It is best to test during the heating season, if possible.
Even if your neighbors’ homes have tested at acceptable levels, you should still test your home, as indoor radon levels can vary from house to house. We’ve seen radon levels in a single neighborhood range from 1.8–76.5 pCi/L.
Since radon is a radioactive gas, there is no safe level. It’s impossible to eliminate your exposure to radon, as the average outdoor concentration in the Midwest ranges from 0.3 to 0.7 pCi/L. However, the lower the level, the better.
Many years ago, the EPA set a radon action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L). They chose this number not because it was safe, but because it was a level that radon mitigation contractors could consistently achieve. At the time, radon mitigation technology could only achieve levels just shy of 4 pCi/L. This is why most radon companies today guarantee to get your radon levels below 4 pCi/L.
The EPA encourages anyone with radon readings between 2 and 3.9 pCi/L to consider mitigation and strongly recommends mitigating anything above 4 pCi/L.
- 2 pCi/L is the equivalent of exposing your family to 100 chest X-rays per year!
- 4 pCi/L is the equivalent of exposing your family to 8 cigarettes per day!
As your radon level increases, so too does your family’s risk. Fortunately, with proper radon testing, you can determine what level of radon you are exposed to.
Your ideal radon removal method will vary depending on the unique needs of your home. Contact us today for a free estimate and more information on the best way to reduce your family’s exposure to deadly radon gas.
Breathe Easier: Test for Radon & Remove It
Learn more about radon, testing, and how to remove it in this video from the MN Department of Health.