What is radon, and why should I care?

Hello everybody, and welcome to a quick look at radon, its causes, health effects, and reasons you should get your home tested.

You may recall from your high school Chemistry class (or not) that Radon is an element listed on the periodic table.  Its symbol is Rn, and it is a radioactive element with a very short half-life.  We’ll discuss why that’s important later.

For now, please just realize that Radon is a naturally-occurring element.  It is the result of uranium decay, and since some areas of the country have higher levels of uranium in the soil (naturally), it makes sense that radon levels vary throughout the country based on geography and soil and rock composition. 

Radon is a gas, and the potential health damage occurs when we inhale air that contains radon atoms.  I mentioned the short half-life earlier, and that is both good and bad.  The downside is that as we breathe, if radon is in the air in our lungs and deteriorates when it is in our lungs, it emits tiny radioactive particles that can damage the soft tissue of our lungs.  Obviously, the damage is slight since the particles are so small (smaller than an atom), but over time the accumulated damage can actually lead to lung cancer.  In fact, radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the US, a far distant second to smoking.

Now don’t fret- it is very easy to mitigate high levels of radon in one’s home.  We’ll talk about radon mitigation in the next post.

The EPA categorizes radon levels by county, with Level 1 being the highest. This means 50% or more of the homes tested will test high for radon.  Unfortunately, in Jefferson County (think all of the area surrounding Louisville, Kentucky), we are rated at Level 1. In the past several years, HomeTeam has performed over 1,600 radon tests in Louisville and Southern Indiana, and the “Level 1” rating is consistent with our findings.  We see elevated radon levels in approximately 60 percent of the homes we test.

Radon is measured in something called “pico Curies per liter,” or pCi/l.  The mitigation threshold is 4.0 pCi/l, so if your home is tested and the level is above 4.0,  the EPA’s guidelines direct mitigation.  The average radon level outside the home is well below that, at 0.4 pCi/l.