Why is Radon the Public Health Risk that it is?
estimates that about 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. are
radon-related. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer
after smoking. Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas produced
by the decay of naturally occurring uranium in soil and water. Radon is a
form of ionizing radiation and a proven carcinogen. Lung cancer is the only
known effect on human health from exposure to radon in air. Thus far, there
is no evidence that children are at greater risk of lung cancer than are
Radon in air
is ubiquitous. Radon is found in outdoor air and in the indoor air of
buildings of all kinds. EPA recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is
4 pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter) or more. Because there is no known safe
level of exposure to radon, EPA also recommends that Americans consider
fixing their home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. The average
radon concentration in the indoor air of America’s homes is about 1.3 pCi/L.
It is upon this level that EPA based its estimate of 20,000 radon-related
lung cancers a year upon. It is for this simple reason that EPA recommends
that Americans consider fixing their homes when the radon level is between 2
pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. The average concentration of radon in outdoor air is .4
pCi/L or 1/10th of EPA’s 4 pCi/L action level.
the risk of lung cancer is significant due to the synergistic effects of
radon and smoking. For this population about 62 people in 1,000 will die of
lung-cancer, compared to 7.3 people in 1,000 for never smokers. Put another
way, a person who never smoked (never smoker) who is exposed to 1.3 pCi/L
has a 2 in 1,000 chance of lung cancer; while a smoker has a 20 in 1,000
chance of dying from lung cancer. Smokers are at a much higher risk than
never smokers, e.g., at 8 pCi/L the risk to smokers is six times the risk to
In 1988, the
Office of the U.S. Surgeon General issued a warning about radon urging
Americans to test their homes and to reduce the radon level when necessary
(U.S. Surgeon General).
Unfortunately, many Americans presume that because the action level is 4 pCi/L,
a radon level of less than 4 pCi/L is ‘safe’. This perception is altogether
too common in the residential real estate market. In managing any risk, we
should be concerned with the greatest risk. For most Americans, their
greatest exposure to radon is in their homes; especially in rooms that are
below grade (e.g., basements), rooms that are in contact with the ground and
those rooms immediately above them.
If you are
buying a home, you should have radon testing performed to determine the
radon level in the house. Detection Inspection, Inc. is certified to perform
radon testing and can provide a low cost scientific radon test. Request the
radon test when you schedule your home inspection.
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