Radon is a colorless, odorless, inert radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of radium and uranium found in the soil beneath a house. Radon levels vary from house to house. Many factors determine the level of radon that enters each home including soil chemistry, soil porosity, and suction within the home. Houses act like chimneys and the radon is sucked out of the ground up through the house and out. It only takes tiny cracks or holes for the radon to enter. The best thing to do is get Radon testing in your house.
What are the risks of Radon?
The following EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) radon risk chart shows the possible effects of radon:
1,000 people were exposed to the same level over a lifetime who are:
Annual Radon Level...Smokers...Never Smokers
20 pCi/L........14% or 135 people.....0.8% or 8 people could get lung cancer
10 pCi/L.........7% or 71 people....... 0.4% or 4 people could get lung cancer
4 pCi/L..........3% or 29 people.........0.2% or 2 people could get lung cancer
2 pCi/L...........2% or 15 people........0.1% or 1 person could get lung cancer
What do studies show about Radon risks?
The EPA studied the lung cancer risk of uranium miners exposed to 400pCi/L. They assume the risk of a homeowner exposed to 4pCi/L to be one hundredth as much. Based on this assumption, the EPA guideline level of 4pCi/L represents a much greater risk than allowed for other environmental pollutants.
Other scientists have tested more than 70,000 homes across the United States. This study shows the counties with the highest average radon levels had the lowest incidence of cancer. Perhaps, breathing the low levels of radon found in the home environment might not be harmful. Neither of these studies actually take into account the many factors that cause cancer, so the real answer to the question is somewhere between the two.
Radon in Middle Tennessee
According to the EPA, Middle Tennessee including Davidson and Williamson County have some of the highest concentration of Radon in the state. An article in The Tennessean in January 2007, stated that Governor Phil Bredesen proclaimed January as "Radon Action Month".
What should I do if my home has Radon?
If your home tests high for Radon, there are radon mitigation systems that can be installed within the home. A result that shows 20pCi/L or higher should most likely be mitigated. Most experts agree that levels of 4pCi/L and below do not pose a significant health risk. There is, however, the gray area between 4pCi/L and 20pCi/L. The closer the level is to 4pCi/L the better, but the homeowner has to make the decision to mitigate or not to mitigate.
Today, most relocation companies insist that the house test below 4pCi/L before they will buy it. Some buyers have adopted this position; anything below 4pCi/L is fine while anything above 4pCi/L is unacceptable. This is an unfortunate misinterpretation of EPA guidance and it could cause you to pay for a radon mitigation system when selling your home. What about that gray area? Is mitigation necessary for a level of 4.1pCi/L?
Take the time to educate yourself about Radon and its potential health risks. Keep in mind that there are options for treatment of your home if high levels are found. If you are selling your home, you should know what Radon is and that mitigation might be required by the buyer in order for your home to sell. If you are buying a home, consider having the home tested for Radon but know the levels and the health risks before mitigating.