The importance of understanding radon

Radon is a radioactive gas originating from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. It is odorless, tasteless, and invisible to the human eye, making its presence hard to detect without specialized tools. Radon typically moves up through the ground and into the air above, and it can enter a home or building through any available opening.

Understanding how radon enters a dwelling or a commercial establishment can shed light on preventative and mitigation measures.

How does radon enter a home or building?

The primary method for radon entry is through direct contact with the ground. This includes any part of a building that is in direct contact with the soil, such as basements and crawlspaces. Radon moves from areas of high pressure, like the soil, to areas of low pressure, like the air in a building, seeping in through gaps and cracks in the foundation.

Common entry points for radon in homes or buildings include:

  • Cracks in solid floors and walls.
  • Gaps in suspended floors.
  • Cavities inside walls.
  • Gaps around service pipes, wires, and piers.
  • The water supply, particularly well water.

It is important to note that all homes and buildings, regardless of their age or design, can have radon concerns. Newer, well-sealed buildings can trap radon inside, and older buildings might have more cracks or openings through which radon can enter. Furthermore, radon levels can vary significantly from one building to the next, even if they are located next to each other.

What are the health risks associated with radon exposure?

Radon exposure, particularly over a prolonged period, presents serious health risks. It is currently recognized as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Worldwide, the World Health Organization attributes approximately 15% of all lung cancer cases to radon exposure.

Long-term exposure to radon allows the radioactive particles to be inhaled, where they can become embedded in the lungs. The decay of these particles results in radiation damage to lung tissue, which over time, increases the risk of lung cancer.

Everyone, regardless of age, gender, or lifestyle, is at risk for radon-related health issues. However, certain groups may have higher susceptibility due to their increased exposure or sensitivity to radon. These include:

  • People who smoke: Radon-related lung cancer risk significantly multiplies for individuals who smoke or have smoked in the past.
  • People who spend much of their time in basements, mines, or similar places: These areas are often associated with higher radon levels.
  • Children and the elderly: Children have faster respiration rates, which may lead to higher radon exposure, and the elderly often have pre-existing lung conditions, making them more vulnerable.

Common symptoms and diseases associated with radon exposure are often similar to those of lung cancer, given the strong correlation between the two. Note that radon exposure itself is asymptomatic – you can’t taste, smell, or see radon, and it doesn’t cause unique symptoms. This means that by the time symptoms such as a persistent cough, chest pain, hoarseness, weight loss, or fatigue are observed, lung cancer may already have developed.

Can radon levels fluctuate over time?

Yes, radon levels in a home or building can fluctuate over time due to various factors. Understanding these variations is key to effectively monitoring and mitigating radon exposure risks.

Several factors can cause radon levels to fluctuate. First and foremost are the structural changes in a building. Alterations, like creating new openings or sealing existing ones, can impact the flow of radon. Also, changes in the usage of exhaust fans, windows, and vents, which alter the air pressure inside a building, can influence radon levels.

Geological factors can also play a significant role in radon fluctuations. Changes in soil composition, groundwater levels, and seismic activity can all impact the concentration of radon gas released from the ground.

There are notable seasonal variations in radon levels as well. Radon concentrations are generally higher during the colder months of the year, as buildings are more likely to be sealed up to prevent heat loss, thus reducing ventilation. During warmer months, windows and doors tend to be left open, increasing ventilation and often leading to lower radon levels.

Monitoring and testing for radon fluctuations is a crucial part of maintaining a safe environment. Regular radon testing can help detect any significant changes in radon levels. It’s generally recommended to test radon levels at least every two years, but more frequent testing may be advisable if significant structural changes have been made to the building or if previous tests indicated high levels of radon gas.

How do you test for radon in your home?

Testing for radon is a straightforward process that can be done using a do-it-yourself kit or hiring a professional.

Radon tests come in two primary types: short-term and long-term. Short-term tests are designed to provide a quick indication of indoor radon levels. Depending on the radon test kit used, these tests last between 2 and 90 days. Short-term tests are ideal for initial screenings or when fast results are necessary.

Long-term tests are conducted over 90 days, often for as long as a year. These tests offer a more accurate estimate of the average radon concentration over time, accounting for the natural fluctuations of radon levels in a building.

Once a radon test is complete, you will receive a measurement typically reported in picocuries per liter (pCi/L) in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends radon mitigation if the result is 4 pCi/L or higher. The World Health Organization’s action level is 2.7 pCi/L or 100 Bq/m3. However, it’s important to remember that all levels of radon carry some risk.

How can radon be mitigated in your home?

There are several methods for mitigating radon, but each aims to reduce the amount of radon in the home by preventing its entry or by reducing its concentration if it does enter. Some commonly used methods include:

  • Radon ventilation systems: Active soil depressurization (ASD) is effective. This system involves the installation of a vent pipe system and a fan to pull radon from beneath the house and vent it to the outside, where it is quickly diluted.
  • Sealing: Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. This method alone won’t solve radon problems, but it can complement other effective radon reduction techniques.
  • House or room pressurization: This involves adjusting the air pressure differences between the basement and living spaces to reduce the amount of radon that could enter the home.
  • Natural ventilation: Opening windows, doors, and vents on the lower floors can temporarily reduce radon levels in a home, but this method is not a long-term solution, as radon levels typically return to previous levels shortly after ventilation ceases.

Hire a professional radon mitigator

While taking some steps yourself is possible, such as sealing cracks in your foundation or improving natural ventilation, professional assistance is strongly recommended for radon mitigation.

Installing a radon mitigation system requires specialized knowledge and skills to ensure it’s done correctly and safely. A professional radon mitigation contractor like Radon Defense will have the training and experience to choose the appropriate method for your home, install the system properly, and perform follow-up testing to ensure the system works effectively.

Contact us today to create a safe environment for your family or employees.