Many people may not know of the harm that can be brought about by radon.
Although it is not harmful in small amounts, people should be mindful that radon might be present in their homes, offices, schools, and other buildings, and in larger amounts, this naturally occurring toxic gas can cause severe health challenges.
As January is National Radon Awareness Month, we wanted to bring added attention to this often overlooked and dismissed air pollutant so you’re more aware of what radon is, how it can be detected, and its effect on your health if it goes unchecked.
So — What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is created through the breakdown of certain soil and rock such as uranium and thorium, and even granite. It is inert, colorless, and odorless.
It is found readily in the atmosphere across the U.S.; including here in Minnesota. When in open spaces, radon can disperse quickly so it’s generally not too much of a health concern under those conditions.
However, most radon exposure happens inside homes, schools, and work areas – and it cannot be detected by a standard smoke and CO2 detector.
Most radon gas gets trapped indoors after entering buildings through cracks and other fissures around the foundation of a property. It can even come up through wells or originate from certain building materials over time.
Radon trapped indoors can be controlled and managed with science-based and cost-effective methods when implemented correctly.
However, going unmitigated, breathing large amounts of radon over a long period can increase the risk of acquiring lung cancer.
In the United States, Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer — the number one cause among nonsmokers — and causes an estimated 21,000 deaths from radon-related lung cancer.
How Do you Detect and Remedy Radon in the Home?
There are recommended steps to help reduce and control the amount of radon in homes or other indoor spaces. But the only way to determine the presence of radon in the air is through testing.
People concerned about radon levels can get their home tested by professionals, but there are available home test kits for those who don’t have the budget to hire professional services. And it’s recommended you test a couple of times of the year as seasonal effects can also affect the levels of radon in your home.
According to the studies, if the radon levels reach 148 Becquerels/meter3 or (4 picocuries/liter), people should take the necessary steps to mitigate it as soon as possible.
For example, radon mitigation can be solved by fixing underground ventilation or having a specific radon mitigation system professionally installed in the home or building.
Does radon only affect older homes?
Radon comes from naturally decaying uranium and radium found in almost all rocks and soils. It can move up from the ground and seep through building cracks on the walls or floors. In some areas where the primary source of drinking water is groundwater, radon can enter the home through the water.
Older homes may be affected by radon as extended exposure to the gas can be harmful, but there can be high radon levels in any home or building, whether new or old. Even well-sealed homes can have radon presence and homes with or without basements.
When unsure of the radon levels in the air:
- Get the area tested for radon. It is the only way to know radon levels in the air. Although professionals can be hired to test for radon presence, home test kits are also available in local home improvement stores. It is a quick and easy solution where the results are available after a few days.
- Take measures for high radon levels. The US EPA and the United States Surgeon General have recommended safety measures to be implemented when radon levels have reached 4pCi/L or higher. If there are elevated traces of radon in the area, professionals can be hired to help fix the radon problem. They can conduct a study around the area and assist in reducing the radon levels to lessen exposure to the gas. In addition, they sometimes recommend special fans or ventilation methods that can help eliminate the radon gas indoors.
Should homeowners worry about radon from their granite countertops?
Granite is known to have radon emissions. However, this type of mineral isn’t that porous, and single-family homes will unlikely have large amounts of granite, so part of radon will be unlikely to be significant enough to be harmful in and of itself.
There’s a low chance of danger from the amount of radon emission from a granite countertop under most circumstances, but when in doubt, it is always best to have the radon levels checked out.
When do you typically see higher levels of radon in Minnesota?
The State of Minnesota’s Department of Health says that radon levels in Minnesota average up to 4.2 pCi/L, which is over thrice than the average radon level in the United States in general of 1.3 pCi/L. The reason for the radon problem is that the soil in Minnesota contains high levels of naturally occurring radon.
Higher radon levels may be detected during the winter when home heating systems draw in the gas from the soil, and homes are more buttoned-up — increasing the radon level inside the home.
Where can I find additional resources?
People curious about radon and would like to know more about it can go to the Minnesota Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency Websites.
Your local libraries also have titles about studies on radon and its effects.
And contacting a licensed radon inspection specialist is always a great place to start.
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