Radon Gas The Basic Facts

Radon - You can't see it. You can't smell it. You can't taste it. Radon gas comes from the radioactive breakdown of naturally occurring radium and or uranium found in most soils and around the world. Uranium is more common in the earth than silver and gold. Traces of the radioactive mineral can be found in all rock, especially granite. In the United States, quantities of uranium large enough to mine are found mostly in the West, although large deposits also have been located in other regions, including Texas, southern Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania. Radon gas is in the air we breathe. Normally in the outdoor air it is highly diluted with other gases in the atmosphere. Some parts of each continent have higher concentrations than others. In the United States this is very evident as seen in this radon map.

Please realize the above map is "generalized" and that even if you live in the the "blue" low level areas on the map there is a significant percentage of high level radon homes that have been tested in those blue areas that don't show up on this map. Check for the radon levels in your county.

Radon is a radioactive gas that has been linked to lung cancer as the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, the second leading cause of all lung cancers behind smoking. Radon gas is much more prevalent than most would like to think, and unfortunately, much more dangerous than people are aware of. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recommends that all homes be tested for radon due to the related risk of lung cancer.

In the illustration above you can see this radioactive gas is in some ways like lightening, in that it too takes the "path-of-least-resistance" as soil pressure forces it out of the ground and into the air. Air pressure inside most buildings and homes is usually lower than pressure in the soil around and under them. Because the pressure is lower inside, radon is drawn or sucked into your house through cracks or holes in the slab or foundation.

Since a building can hold radon similarly to smoke trapped under a glass, indoor radon concentrations can increase to many times that of outdoor levels. The tighter a building is sealed, the more radon it can trap inside. Unfortunately a new or energy efficient home can actually increase the risk of exposing yourself and your loved ones to this dangerous Class A carcinogen.

Most Likely More Than You Want To Know About Radon

What Radon Does In Our Bodies

Radon-222 is a decay product of radium-226 and ultimatelyof uranium-238 (2 elements that are ubiquitous in soilsand rocks, thereby providing a continual source of radon).Radon can accumulate in enclosed areas such as undergroundmines and houses. When inhaled into the lung, alpha particlesemitted by short-lived decay products of radon can damagecellular DNA. Cellular mutagenesis studies, experimentalresearch in animals, and occupational epidemiologic studieshave established radon as a human lung carcinogen.1,2Submitted 14 October 2004; final version accepted 19 November 2004.From the*McLaughlin Centre for Population Health Risk Assessment, Universityof Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; the †Biostatistics Branch,Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute,Bethesda, MD; the ‡Healthy Environments and Consumer SafetyBranch, Health Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; the §OccupationalEpidemiology Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics,National Cancer Institute, Washington, DC; the _Centre of Excellence forChildren and Adolescents with Special Needs, Lakehead University,Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada; the Departments of ¶Epidemiology and**Occupational and Environmental Health, College of Public Health,University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa; ††Cancer Epidemiology, Departmentof Health and Senior Services, Trenton, New Jersey; the ‡‡RadiationProtection Bureau, Health Protection Branch, Health Canada,Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; the§§Department of Family and PreventiveMedicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah; the __EpidemiologyBranch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, ResearchTriangle Park, North Carolina; the ¶¶Department of Physics, St. John’sUniversity, Collegeville, Minnesota; the ***School of Medicine, YaleUniversity, New Haven, Connecticut; and the †††Biostatistics Branch,National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Research TrianglePark, North Carolina.Salary support for R. W. Field, C. Lynch, and D. Steck provided in part bygrant no. R01 CA85942 from US NCI and grant no. P30 ES05695 fromU.S. NIEHS. Research supported by grants from Canadian Institutes ofHealth Research and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Councilof Canada. Additional support provided by Health Canada and the U.S.Department of Energy.Hence the importance of radon-resistant construction techniques. For more information you can down load the 84 page EPA publication for building new homes with radon-reducing features (This may take up to a minute to down load): Build Radon Out.

If you have elevated radon levels you can fix your home. See our web page on "Radon Mitigation" for more information. If you are building a new house in an area of moderate or high radon potential, it is recommend that you use radon resistant building techniques.

The only way to know whether your home has elevated radon levels is to test your home. There are no physical signs to warn you of the presence of radon, and it cannot be detected with the senses. And since radon levels can vary significantly from home to home, you can't use your neighbor's test results to determine whether or not your home has a problem. Your home must be tested.

Click this link for a helpful video from the EPA on the basics

Further helpful reading

CDC page on radiation studies

Radon and Cancer infopage from the National Cancer Institute

EPA page on radon gas