Environmental Health Hazards
Radon is a radioactive gas produced naturally by the decay of uranium and radium. In the soil, as these elements decay, radon gas is produced. Radon easily moves in homes through cracks and other openings. Once into the home, radon has less air to mix with, and may build up to dangerous levels. Radon is odorless, colorless, and undetectable by the human senses.
Radon decay products or the radioactive particles can be inhaled. Once inhaled, the particles stick to your lungs and release radioactive energy. The radioactive energy can cause damage to the lung tissue. Extended exposure to high levels of radon can increase the risk of lung cancer.
Radon is measured in picocuries of radiation per liter of air (pC/L). The EPA has set the radon standard (action level) to 4 pC/L. When radon levels are above 4 pC/L, action should be taken to reduce the level. Radon is estimated to be responsible for 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States per year.
How Do We Know Radon Causes Cancer?
The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences, the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have classified radon as a known human carcinogen, because of the wealth of scientific evidence and data showing the connection between exposure to radon and lung cancer in humans.
Testing Your Home
Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. If you've never tested your home before, it is recommended that you start with a short-term charcoal test. Simply follow the instructions provided as you test your home. The results of this test provide the homeowner with an idea of the potential for a problem in the home. The ideal time for testing is during the fall and winter heating season, when the home is closed up.
The US EPA standard is 4.0 pCi/L. Results less than 4.0 pCi/L - no further action is necessary. Results greater than 4.0 pCi/L and less than 8.0 pCi/L - it is recommended to conduct a long term test to determine the annual average exposure. If the result from the long term test is above 4.0 pCi/L, efforts should be made to reduce the radon level. Results greater than 8.0 pCi/L - it is suggested to take a second short term test to verify that the first short term test is accurate. If the result of the second test is similar to the first test, action should take place to reduce your exposure to radon in your home.
If your test results are elevated, it is wise to do another test to verify and to identify its source. Then, there are usually simple and inexpensive ways to fix a radon problem. The cost of reducing radon in your home depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other home repairs, ranging from $100 to $1,000. In new construction, radon-resistant features are recommended and easily built-in to any structure.
By the numbers:
- Over 60% of homes tested in Waupaca County have results above the EPA recommended action level of 4.0 pC/L
- The average result in Waupaca County is 8.2
- The US EPA estimates that exposure to radon is responsible for 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year