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Environmental Hazards: Radon

Radon is a radioactive gaseous element produced in the disintegration of radium, a radioactive metallic element. It cannot be detected by the senses and can be confirmed only by sophisticated instruments and laboratory tests. The gas enters a house through pores and cracks in the concrete or through floorboards of poorly ventilated crawlspaces, especially when wet ground allows the gas to escape easily through the soil and disperse in the atmosphere. Radon is a lung carcinogen: the National Academy of Sciences estimates radon causes some 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths annually. The U.S. Surgeon General and the EPA recommend all houses be tested for radon. Houses with high radon levels can be fixed.

Radon Frequently Asked Questions
What is Radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found in soils, rock, and water throughout the U.S. Radon causes lung cancer, and is a threat to health because it tends to collect in homes, sometimes to very high concentrations.

How can Radon affect people's health?
Almost all risk from radon comes from breathing air with radon and its decay products. Radon decay products cause lung cancer.

There is no safe level of radon -- any exposure poses some risk of cancer. In two 1999 reports, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded after an exhaustive review that radon in indoor air is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking. The NAS estimated that 15,000-22,000 Americans die every year from radon-related lung cancer.

How do I know if there is Radon in my home?
You cannot see, feel, smell, or taste radon. Testing your home is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing for radon in all rooms below the third floor.

What can I do to protect myself and my family from Radon?
The first step is to test your home for radon, and have it fixed if it is at or above EPA's Action Level of 4 picocuries per liter. You may want to take action if the levels are in the range of 2-4 picocuries per liter. Generally, levels can be brought below 2 pCi/l fairly simply.

The best method for reducing radon in your home will depend on how radon enters your home and the design of your home. For example, sealing cracks in floors and walls may help to reduce radon. There are also systems that remove radon from the crawl space or from beneath the concrete floor or basement slab that are effective at keeping radon from entering your home. These systems are simple and don't require major changes to your home. Other methods may be necessary.

People who have private wells should test their well water to ensure that radon levels meet EPA's newly proposed standard.


For more information, read the EPA's A Citizen's Guide to Radon.

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