The Risks of Radon in Your Home
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that seeps up from the earth. When inhaled, it gives off radioactive particles that can damage lung cells. More than 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States are attributed to radon, usually an exposure to small amounts over years. The gas is odorless. Radon gas invades most homes through cracks and openings in the concrete foundation and block walls. People are in particular danger of radon exposure when homes are closed for winter and the radon cannot escape through open windows.
The World Health Organization reports that radon is more likely to cause lung cancer in people who smoke. Smokers are estimated to be 25 times more at risk from radon than non-smokers. No other cancer risks have been attributed to the gas.
According to the Wisconsin Department for Health Services, one out of ten Wisconsin homes are leaking radon into family living spaces. Radon in drinking water is not considered a significant risk, but radon can be released into the air from shower and cooking steam. The lifetime inhalation risk from 10,000 pCi/L in water is about two in a thousand for non-smokers and about nine in a thousand for smokers. Homeowners who use wells are advised to have their water tested for radon.
You can buy a radon test kit from a hardware store or a Radon Information Center for around $20. Also available are certified radon measurement professionals. Any reading greater than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) is unsafe. Homeowners should test their houses every two years — even if the first test shows safe levels of radon. Landlords are advised to test as well to keep their properties safe for habitation. To understand your radon levels, see this chart.
If your home tests high, a contractor can install a sub-slab depressurization system to prevent radon from entering your home by drawing the underground collections of radon and venting the gas through your roof. These systems can reduce radon to below 2 pCi/L. The cost for materials and a certified contractor run about $2,000. Unless you are a skilled contractor, this is not a do-it-yourself project.
This under-reported home health hazard is being highlighted by designating October 17 to 24 National Radon Awareness Week.