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Radon

Why Should Every Home be Tested?

The EPA and the U. S. Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. Data gathered by the EPA national radon survey indicate that elevated radon levels are present in about six million (6,000,000) homes throughout the United States. In every state there are homes with dangerously high radon levels. Because the radon concentration inside a home is due to factors relating to its structure and geographic location, each individual home must be tested to determine its radon level. Two adjacent houses may have radically different radon levels. And any kind of home can have elevated levels -- new or old, drafty or well-sealed, and basement or non-basement.

If you've tested the air in your home and found a radon problem, and your water comes from a well, have your water tested.

There are two main sources for the radon in your home's indoor air, the soil and the water supply. Compared to radon entering the home through water, radon entering your home through the soil is usually a much larger risk.

The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

Radon in your home's water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

If you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be fixed. Your home's water supply can be treated in two ways. Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use and are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home

1.  Executive Summary

Radon Causes Thousands Of Preventable Lung Cancer Deaths Each Year

Each year in the United States exposure to indoor radon gas causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Extensive epidemiological evidence from studies of underground miners, complemented by animal data, indicates that radon causes lung cancer in both smokers and nonsmokers, although malignancy is especially likely to occur in cigarette smokers. Exposure to both smoking and radon greatly enhances the risk of lung cancer. The carcinogenicity of radon is supported by a consensus of opinion among national and international health organizations. By informing patients about the health risk posed by radon exposure and providing practical advice about radon testing and mitigation, physicians can have a tremendous positive impact on the national effort to prevent radon-induced lung cancer.

Radon is estimated to cause about 14,000 deaths per year -- however, this number could range from 7,000 to 30,000 deaths per year. The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the 1990 National Safety Council reports.

Radon is estimated to cause thousands of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.

* Radon is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according
to
EPA's 2003 Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003)
The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and
Control Report and 2002 National Safety Council Reports.

Radon Is Easy To Detect And Reduce In A Home

The danger posed by radon can be detected rather easily through inexpensive do-it yourself testing, or through a trained radon contractor. Radon test kits can be purchased by mail order or in hardware stores and other retail outlets. Because of the serious health risk posed by radon, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that all homes be tested for radon below the third floor.

If an elevated radon level is discovered in a home, it can be corrected. It is recommended that a confirmed radon level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air or higher be reduced to decrease the risk of developing lung cancer. The cost of radon mitigation in a typical home ranges from about $500 to about $2,500. Your state radon information office (see page toward end of this brochure) can provide general advice about radon testing and mitigation, as well as specific information about qualified radon contractors in your state.

2.  What is Radon?

Radon-222 is a radioactive gas released during the natural decay of thorium and uranium, which are common, naturally occurring elements found in varying amounts in rock and soil. Odorless, invisible, and without taste, radon cannot be detected with the human senses.

Radon-222 decays into radioactive elements, two of which -- polonium-218 and polonium-214 -- emit alpha particles, which are highly effective in damaging lung tissues. These alpha-emitting radon decay products have been implicated in a causal relationship with lung cancer in humans.

3.  Characteristics and Sources of Radon

Outdoors, where it is diluted to low concentrations in the air, radon poses significantly less risk than indoors. In the indoor air environment, however, radon can accumulate to significant levels. The magnitude of radon concentration indoors depends primarily on a building's construction and the amount of radon in the underlying soil. The soil composition under and around a house affects radon levels and the ease with which radon migrates toward a house. Normal pressure differences between the house and the soil can create a slight vacuum in the home that can draw radon gas from the soil into the building.

Radon gas can enter a home from the soil through cracks in concrete floors and walls, floor drains, sump pumps, construction joints, and tiny cracks or pores in hollow-block walls. Radon levels are generally highest in basements and ground floor rooms that are in contact with the soil. Factors such as the design, construction, and ventilation of the home affect the pathways and sources that can draw radon indoors. Another source of radon indoors may be air released by well water during showering and other household activities. Compared to radon entering the home through soil, radon entering the home through water will in most cases be a small source of risk.

  1. Cracks in concrete slabs
  2. Spaces behind brick veneer walls that rest on uncapped hollow-brick foundation
  3. Pores and cracks in concrete blocks
  4. Floor-wall joints
  5. Exposed soil, as in a sump
  6. Weeping (drain) tile, if drained to open sump
  7. Mortar joints
  8. Loose fitting pipe penetrations
  9. Open tops of block walls
  10. Building materials such as some rocks
  11. Water (from some wells

Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • How much radon is in your home
  • The amount of time you spend in your home
  • Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked

Radon Risk If You Smoke

Radon Level

If 1,000 people who smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*...

The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**...

WHAT TO DO:
Stop smoking and...

20 pCi/L

About 260 people could get lung cancer

250 times the risk of drowning

Fix your home

10 pCi/L

About 150 people could get lung cancer

200 times the risk of dying in a home fire

Fix your home

8 pCi/L

About 120 people could get lung cancer

30 times the risk of dying in a fall

Fix your home

4 pCi/L

About 62 people could get lung cancer

5 times the risk of dying in a car crash

Fix your home

2 pCi/L

About 32 people could get lung cancer

6 times the risk of dying from poison

Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L

1.3 pCi/L

About 20 people could get lung cancer

(Average indoor radon level)

(Reducing radon 
levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult.)

0.4 pCi/L

About 3 people could get lung cancer

(Average outdoor radon level)

Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be lower.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.

Radon Risk If You've Never Smoked

Radon Level

If 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*...

The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**...

WHAT TO DO:

20 pCi/L

About 36 people could get lung cancer

35 times the risk of drowning

Fix your home

10 pCi/L

About 18 people could get lung cancer

20 times the risk of dying in a home fire

Fix your home

8 pCi/L

About 15 people could get lung cancer

4 times the risk of dying in a fall

Fix your home

4 pCi/L

About 7 people could get lung cancer

The risk of dying in a car crash

Fix your home

2 pCi/L

About 4 person could get lung cancer

The risk of dying from poison

Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L

1.3 pCi/L

About 2 people could get lung cancer

(Average indoor radon level)

(Reducing radon levels below 
2 pCi/L is difficult.)

0.4 pCi/L

 

(Average outdoor radon level)

Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be higher.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.

It's never too late to reduce your risk of lung cancer.  Don't wait to test and fix a radon problem.  If you are a smoker, stop smoking.

Radon in Drinking Water

radon in drinking water

Public Health Standards for Radon in Drinking Water

EPA's proposal for public health standards for radon in drinking water provided two options to States and community water systems for reducing radon health risks in both drinking water and indoor air quality, a unique multimedia framework authorized in the 1996 Amendments to the Safewater Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  Information about the proposed rule and information relating to the status of the rule can be found at:  www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report on Radon in Drinking Water "Risk Assessment of Radon in Drinking Water."

A report released September 15, 1998, by the National Academy of Sciences is the most comprehensive accumulation of scientific data on the public health risks of radon in drinking water.  The report was required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).  The NAS report (BEIR VI) issued earlier this year confirmed that radon is a serious public health threat.  This report goes on to refine the risks of radon in drinking water and confirms that there are drinking water related cancer deaths, primarily due to lung cancer.  The report, in general, confirms earlier EPA scientific conclusions and analyses for drinking water, and presents no major changes to EPA's 1994 risk assessment.

The Office of Ground Water Drinking Water has posted the press release of "Risk Assessment of Radon in Drinking Water".  There is also a link to NAS's Executive Summary on the report (with initial EPA perspectives) at: www.epa.gov/OGWDW/radon/nas.html

For general information on radon in drinking water, contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline, at (800) 426-4791.  The Safe Drinking Water Hotline is open Monday through Friday, excluding Federal holidays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

If you are interested in finding a qualified radon service professional to test or mitigate your home, or you need to purchase or have questions about a radon measurement device, you should:

  1. Contact your State Radon Contact (just click on your state) to determine what are, or whether there are, requirements associated with providing radon measurement and or radon mitigations/reductions in your State. Some States maintain lists of contractors available in their state or they have proficiency programs or requirements of their own.
  2. Contact one or both of the two privately-run National Radon Proficiency Programs (listed here alphabetically) who are offering proficiency listing/accreditation/certification in radon testing and mitigation.  (Reference herein to any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, does not necessarily constitute or imply its endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the United States Government.)
    • The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA)
      National Radon Proficiency Program
      Web site: 
      www.neha-nrpp.org/ exiting EPA
      Toll Free: (800) 269-4174 or
      (828) 890-4117
      Fax: (828) 890-4161
      E-Mail: 
      angel@neha-nrpp.org
       
    • The National Radon Safety Board (NRSB)
      Toll Free: (866) 329-3474
      Fax:  (914) 345-1169
      Web site: 
      www.nrsb.org exiting EPA
      E-mail:
      info@NRSB.org

 

      
                 
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