Radon 101 for National Radon Action Month

The EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. But how much do you actually know about this silent but potentially dangerous gas? Learning the basics about radon can help you to protect your family from the harmful effects of prolonged radon exposure.

What is radon?

In short, radon is a completely invisible, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas. Radon forms naturally as a result of the decomposition of radioactive elements like uranium found in soil and rock all over the world.

How can your family come into contact with radon?

While radon can be found in low levels outdoors in air and water, the most common source of radon exposure comes from being inside homes, schools, offices, and other buildings. Radon can enter homes and buildings through cracks or gaps in walls, floors and pipes; because radon comes from rock and soil, radon levels are usually highest in basements and lower-level floors. Your family’s exposure to radon depends on the characters of the rock and soil below or surrounding your home, your office and your children’s schools.

How does radon impact your family’s health?

A small amount of radon exposure is unavoidable and no cause for concern. However, long term exposure to elevated radon levels indoors increases your family’s risk of lung cancer. In fact, in the U.S., radon is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers and results in over 20,000 deaths per year.

Radon can be especially harmful to more vulnerable populations like pregnant women and young children. Exposure to elevated radon levels during pregnancy can result in premature birth and low birthweight, and may even affect a child’s health as he or she grows up. Research also suggests that, because young children are still growing and take more breaths than adults, they may inhale significantly more radon than adults.

Keep in mind, exposure to elevated levels of radon will not cause any immediate health problems or apparent symptoms; thus, being vigilant and taking steps to proactively protect your family is key.

How can you protect your family from the harmful effects of radon? 

If you are unsure as to whether your home contains elevated levels of radon:

  • Ask your family’s health provider or your local health department about the radon levels in your community
  • Test your home for radon – DIY radon kits are inexpensive and available at many hardware stores. However, you can also call on a professional to test your home.

The EPA recommends that families take action to lower radon levels in their homes when radon levels measure at 4.0 pCi/L or higher

If you need to reduce radon levels in your home:

  • Have a vent pipe system and fan installed – this pulls radon out from beneath your home and vents it to the outside
  • Seal any cracks or gaps in your home’s foundation, flooring, or walls
  • If you are planning on building a new home or renovating, seek out builders who use radon-resistant construction techniques

For more information about how to reduce radon levels in your home, take a look at this EPA guide.

For more safety tips and information, please contact the Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention and Healthy Homes Program at (973) 372-4353.

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