What is Radon?
Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. You can’t see radon. And you can’t smell it or taste it. But it may be a problem in your home.
Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That’s because when you breathe air containing radon, you can get lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
Radon can be found all over the U.S. Radon comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water and gets into the air you breathe. It can get into any type of building – homes, offices, and schools – and result in a high indoor radon level. But you and your family are most likely to get your greatest exposure at home. That’s where you spend most of your time.
You should test for radon. Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. EPA also recommends testing in schools. Testing is inexpensive and easy – it should only take a few minutes of your time. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon.
Fix your home if your radon level is:
- 4 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.
- Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced.
- Radon is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year.*
* Radon is estimated to cause between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths per year according to the National Academy of Sciences 1998 data. The numbers of deaths from other causes are taken from 2001 National Safety Council reports.
How Does Radon Get Into Your Home?
Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.
Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. Sometimes radon enters the home through well water (see “Radon in Water” below). In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.