Radon in the home

The Old House Web
Radon (Rn) is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. Radon is produced when trace amounts of uranium and radium in the soil or rocks decay.

The radon gas will then also decay into radioactive solid particles, called radon daughters or radon progenitors. Some of the short-lived radon daughters attach themselves to small particles in the air, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The radon daughters may then damage dividing lung cells, possibly resulting in lung cancer. Radon gas is thought to be responsible for 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.

The major sources of radon are: soil that contains radon-releasing material; water and natural gas that has passed through underground areas containing radon; solar-heating systems that use radon-emitting rocks to store heat; granite rock; and uranium or phosphate mine tailings.

Out-of-doors, radon poses little threat to our health because it is in such a low concentration. Indoors, however, radon can become more concentrated because of the lack of ventilation in homes combined with exhaust fans that draw air. Radon gas can seep into a house through dirt floors, cracks in concrete floors and walls, floor drains, sump pumps, and joints. Radon gas can also accumulate in private wells and be released into the home when water is used. This is normally not a problem for large community water supplies. The level of radon that can build up indoors depends upon the amount of radon in the source material and the rate at which it is removed from the home by ventilation. Homes tested throughout the U.S. show a wide range of radon concentrations.

These quick, inexpensive steps advised by the EPA can be taken to help lower your risks from radon exposure:

Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home; it may increase the risk of radon exposure.

Spend less time in areas with higher concentrations of radon, such as the basement.

Whenever practical, increase the airflow into and through your house, especially in the basement.

If you home has a crawl space beneath, keep the vents on all sides of the house fully open all year.

There are two commercially-available radon detectors, the charcoal canister and the alpha-track detector. Both of these are exposed to the air in your home for a specific time period and sent to a laboratory for analysis. For additional information about radon, contact the American Lung Association.


This information comes from the Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home, part of the HouseHold Hazardous Waste Project in Missouri.

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