Keep Your Indoor Air Safe: Get Rid of Radon

by Lauren Tamburello on March 17, 2014

Radon (Rn) is the chemical element with the atomic number 86. Radon is an odorless, tasteless, invisible, and radioactive gas that is produced by the decay of naturally occurring uranium. It is primarily found in soil and rocks, such as granite. As uranium decays, radon travels from the soil and rock and eventually disperses into the air. Radon can be found at very low levels in outdoor air and in water from rivers and lakes. Radon gas can be found at higher levels indoors and poses a great risk to households. Radon enters homes in the basement through cracks in walls, crawl spaces, openings around pipes, cracks in the floor, joints between the floor and walls, and etc. Radon can also get into homes through well water usage (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014).

There is no safe level of radon exposure! As radon decays, it produces various radioactive particles. These particles attach to dust and air particles and can be inhaled. Once inhaled, the radioactive elements continue to decay into alpha particles, a form of high-energy radiation that can damage DNA and cells in the lungs (American Cancer Society, 2013). The inhalation of radon attributes to many cases of lung cancer. Many have estimated that radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer and is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. Two studies have been performed, one in New Jersey and one in Europe, that expressed and proved the correlation between radon exposure and lung cancer in the populations studied (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014).

Originally, radon exposure was only believed to be a risk to uranium miners, but beginning in the 1980’s it was found that most people can be exposed to harmful quantities of radon in their homes. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that “radon is a worldwide health risk in homes” and discussed that “most radon-induced lung cancers occur from low and medium exposures in people’s homes”(United States Environmental Protection Agency, 2014). With the evidence and knowledge that radon exposure can cause lung cancer, many steps have been taken recently to increase awareness and promote action. The Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that homes be fixed if they contain 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or more of radon. This is referred to as the action level (Nadakavukaren, 2011, pp. 368-370). In 2005, the Surgeon General issued a National Health Advisory that aimed to warn Americans about the health risks from the indoor exposure to radon gas and advised Americans to test their homes for radon (Surgeon General, 2007). That same year, WHO sponsored the International Radon Project to collect data and gather information on radon risk with the aim to develop radon policies, improve radon mitigation, along with prevention and communication efforts (World Health Organization, 2014). The WHO handbook on indoor radon was developed as a result of the International Radon Project.

There are a few ways to inexpensively assess radon levels in your home and I would advise every home owner to do so. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends the testing all homes below the 3rd floor, even new homes that were built radon-resistant. Home radon detectors can be purchased online, at hardware stores, and supermarkets. Many local public health departments may be another resource for radon detection and monitoring devices. There are both short-term and long-term kits for radon detection. Because radon levels tend to vary from day to day and season to season, a short-term test is less likely than a long-term test to tell you your year-round average radon level. Long-term kits can predict radon exposure for the entire year. Like mentioned previously, if test results shows radon levels of 4.0 pCi/L or higher the EPA highly recommends action be taken. Radon mitigation can be expensive, as it should be performed by experienced professionals, but also lung cancer treatment can also be expensive. This post serves essentially to continue to increase awareness, encourage radon monitoring within households, and also to encourage that the appropriate and necessary measures to eliminate radon in households be taken (Nadakavukaren, 2011, p. 371)

American Cancer Society. (2013, July 31). Radon. Retrieved from

Nadakavukaren, A. (2011). Our global enivronment. (7 ed.) pp. 341 – 371. Long Grove, Illinois: Waveland Press.

Surgeon General. United States Department of Health and Human Services, (2007). Surgeon general releases national health advisory on radon. Retrieved from website:

United States Environmental Protection Agency (2014).Radon. Retrieved from website:

World Health Organization. (2014). Ionizing radiation in our environment. Retrieved from

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