What is Radon Gas?


What is Radon Gas? (Charlotte, NC)-My wife and I are buying a new home and ordered a Home Inspection this week. We ordered a standard inspection which included all the systems and appliances of our home, among other things the Home Inspector also offered to do a Radon Inspection. Can you tell us more about what Radon is?

Matt and Debbie- Lake Norman




Radon is a chemical element with symbol Rn and atomic number 86. It is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas occurring naturally as an indirect decay product of Uranium and Thorium in rock, soil and water. Naturally existing, low levels of uranium occur throughout the Earth’s crust. It can be found in all 50 states. Once produced, radon moves through the ground to the air above. Some remains below the surface and dissolves in water that collects and flows under the ground’s surface.

When radon undergoes radioactive decay, it emits ionizing radiation in the form of alpha particles. It also produces short-lived decay products, called progeny, some of which is also radioactive. Unlike radon, the progeny are not gases at all and can easily attach to dust and other particles. Those particles can be transported by air which mean it can also be breathed. Progeny decay continues until stable, non-radioactive progeny are formed. At each step throughout this decay process, radiation is released.


What does it mean if I am exposed to Radon?


According to the Surgeon General, Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. There are currently no conclusive data as to whether or not children are at greater risk than adults from radon. There is no known specific subtype of lung cancer is associated with radon exposure.

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles which can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down, these particles release small bursts of energy. These energy bursts can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Just because someone is exposed to elevated levels of radon, does not mean they will develop lung cancer, and the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years. Breathing radon does not cause any symptoms or short-term health effects such as shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, or fever. Research suggests that drinking water with high radon levels may pose risks, as well although risks from drinking water containing radon are much lower than those from breathing air containing radon.


How is Radon measured?


The EPA states that any radon exposure can carry some risk, however no level of radon exposure is always safe. However, the EPA recommends homes be fixed if an occupant’s long-term exposure will average 4 picocuries per liter pCi/L or higher. A pCi is a measure of the rate of radioactive decay of radon. One pCi is one trillionth of a Curie, 0.037 disintegrations per second, or 2.22 disintegrations per minute. Therefore, at 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter, the EPA’s recommended action level), there will be approximately 12,672 radioactive disintegrations in one liter of air during a 24-hour period. The US EPA has set an action level of 4 pCi/L. At or above this level of radon, the EPA recommends you take corrective action to reduce your exposure to radon gas.


What Can Be Done To Treat Radon


The EPA recommends that you use a state certified and/or qualified radon mitigation contractor trained to fix radon problems. You can determine a service provider’s qualifications to perform radon measurements or to mitigate your home in several ways. First, check with your state radon office (see p. 17). Many states require radon professionals to be licensed, certified, or registered, and to install radon mitigation systems that meet state requirements. Most states can provide you with a list of knowledgeable radon service providers doing business in the state. In states that don’t regulate radon services, ask the contractor if they hold a professional proficiency or certification credential, and if they follow industry consensus standards such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Standard Practice for Installing Radon Mitigation Systems in Existing Low-Rise Residential Buildings, E2121 (March 2001), or the U.S. EPA’s Radon Mitigation Standards (EPA 402-R-93-078, revised April 1994). Choose a contractor to fix a radon problem just as you would choose someone to do other home repairs. It is wise to get more than one estimate, to ask for references, and to contact some of those references to ask if they are satisfied with the contractors’ work. Also, ask your state radon office or your county/state consumer protection office for information about the contractors. If you have any questions regarding the radon detection process, feel free to give us a call or check out our website at www.ContinentalContinentalHomeInspections.com


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