Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs as uranium or thorium decays in the soils. Radon can be found all over the globe wherever there are soils; therefore, it occurs naturally in the air we breathe every day. When radon gas enters a home or other building through cracks, sump pits or other natural openings in or under the home, the gas can accumulate to a point where it becomes a serious health hazard.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the second-most-frequent cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking, causing more than 20,000 lung-cancer deaths per year in the United States.
All homes have radon, but not all homes have elevated levels of radon. Some estimates are that 1 in every 15 homes has an elevated level of radon gas.
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As the radon gas decays inside the home, it produces new elements called “radon daughters or progenies” that are solids that stick to dust particles that can be inhaled. These radon-contaminated dust particles then stick to the airways of the lungs, increasing the chances of developing lung cancer.
Every home should be checked for radon. A test can be as easy as placing a charcoal canister inside a basement or bedroom for several days or months and then sending the canister to a certified laboratory for analysis. Charcoal canisters can be found at most home and big-box stores.
The canister should be left inside the home with the windows and doors closed, except for normal entry and exit. Every time a door or window is opened, the air pressure inside drops. This is when radon-contaminated air from under the foundation enters the home.
Radon also can enter during heavy rains (it’s water-soluble) or when there are strong winds that lower the air pressures in the home.
During a real-estate transaction, time is of the essence, so a more sophisticated method of testing is performed by a licensed radon tester using state-of-the-art equipment for a minimum of 48 hours. If you have a well, the water also should be checked for radon gas, which dissipates when one showers or bathes.
Do-it-yourself radon-water test kits can be purchased online for less than $30.
A “Citizen’s Guide to Radon” can be found at http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguidetml and a radon-concentration map of the U.S. can be found at http://www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html.
Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at C. Dwight Barnett, Evansville Courier & Press, P.O. Box 268, Evansville, Ind. 47702 or email him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com. Sorry no personal replies. Always consult local contractors and codes.