There are good reasons you should pay attention to radon levels in your house. Though this gas is odorless and tasteless, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. The Surgeon General says radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Your risk increases exponentially if you smoke and are exposed to high radon levels.
By far, the leading cause of high radon levels in homes is the natural radioactive decay of uranium in soil, rocks, and water. This decomposition process releases tiny amounts of radon into the atmosphere. Often it makes its way up through basements and ventilation systems to become trapped in your house where you will breathe it. Radon is not only found in houses. Schools, office buildings, and any other sort of structure can hold radon inside. You can imagine the level of exposure you and your family might experience if you happened to have high radon levels in your house, at the school the kids go to, and in your work environment.
Soil is the single largest source of high radon level in your house. A lesser risk is radon that leaches from the soil into your home water supply. Wherever you use water in the house - bathtub/shower heads, sinks, washing machine – there is a risk of radon-saturated water particles escaping into the air as vapor. A moderate risk accompanies radon ingested by drinking faucet water, but the vast majority of water radon risk comes when it is released into the air as overspray (such as while you take a shower) and later inhaled through regular breathing. Any natural underground water table that feeds either private wells or public water supplies could pose a radon risk to homeowners.
The primary means that radon enters a house from soil is through:
- cracks in solid floors
- construction joints
- cracks in walls
- gaps in suspended floors
- gaps around service pipes
- cavities inside walls
Even though radon may be more common in some areas, there often appears to be no rhyme or reason where it shows up geographically. The only way to find out if you have an issue is to test, which is an inexpensive, simple process. Do-It-Yourself testing kits are widely available. Check your local hardware store or other retail outlet. The test itself only takes a few minutes of your time.
When built with radon prevention in mind, modern construction techniques can go a long way towards assuring that household levels never get high enough to be dangerous. If you're considering buying or renting a house, it might be worth your while to ask if the radon level has been recently tested or, if not, if you could do your own testing.