Radon in the Home

What is Radon?

The “parent” element of Radon, a radioactive element found in many homes, is Uranium. Through its natural decay, radium and its “progeny”, daughter product, radon gas is produced. Radon gas has no color or odor and requires specialized equipment and laboratory testing to be detected.

The pores and cracks in the foundation of a home and crawl spaces with poor ventilation are two common entry sources for radon. Homes located above gravel and other porous subsoils have a greater susceptibility to radon than less porous subsoils like clay. Radon easily travels through more porous soils to reach foundations and any cracks or openings in that foundation allow it into the home.

Picocuries (pCi) is how radon is measured. 1.3 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air) is a common level of radon for an indoor space and is not dangerous. If radon concentrations exceed 4.0 pCi/L it is recommended by the EPA that action be taken to reduce the levels.

Radon Testing Equipment

It is estimated that 1 in 15 homes nationwide currently exceed the 4.0 pCi/L concentration considered to be the “action level” by EPA standards. Areas located across the U.S. consistently test at levels above average. In New York alone, there are areas where close to 50% of the homes exceed the 4.0 pCi/L levels.

Radon, a known carcinogen, is estimated by the National Academy of Sciences to be responsible for more than 20,000 cases of lung cancer each year. The damage of tissues and cells in the human body is caused by the alpha radiation emitted by radon. The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend that every home be tested for Radon concentration levels.

When high concentrations of radiation are discovered in a home, radiation mitigation techniques and equipment are available to reduce the levels. For example, PVC piping can be installed under the cement basement as a means of intercepting radon gas. You can also have a fan or air pump installed to direct the flow of radon gas outside.

These pipes and fans are something to be on the lookout for when purchasing a home as well. These could be signs of a system of radon mitigation already in place which the seller failed to disclose. This is not uncommon especially for motivated sellers.

The results of a recent study have shown that ashes from coal and wood can be sources of radon gas emissions. To avoid experiencing an increase in radon concentrations in your home as a result of a coal or wood burning stove or a fireplace you should keep them free of standing ash.


Author: Manuel Schmidt