Fact Sheet: January Is National Radon Action Month (Part 2 of 2)

This is a continuation of a fact sheet that appeared in the Jan. 10 EP E-news with information from EPA.

Radon in Water

There are two main sources for the radon in some people's home's indoor air, the soil and the water supply. Compared to radon entering the home through water, radon entering your home through the soil is usually a much larger risk.

The radon in some people's water supply poses an inhalation risk and an ingestion risk. Research has shown that the risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than the risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it. Most of the risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes.

Radon in you home's water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is groundwater, e.g. a private well or a public water supply system that uses groundwater. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.

If you've tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be fixed. Your home's water supply can be treated in two ways. Point-of-entry treatment can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use and are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.

For more information, call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or visit http://www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html. If your water comes from a private well, you can also contact your state radon office.

How to Lower the Radon Level in Your Home

Since there is no known safe level of radon, there can always be some risk. But the risk can be reduced by lowering the radon level in your home.

There are several proven methods to reduce radon in your home, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. This system, known as a soil suction radon reduction system, does not require major changes to your home. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems also can be installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors can use other methods that may also work in your home. The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors.

Ways to reduce radon in your home are discussed in EPA's "Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction" (http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/consguid.html). You can get a copy from your state radon office.

The cost of reducing radon in your home depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs. The average house costs about $1,200 for a contractor to fix, although this can range from about $800 to about $2,500. The cost is much less if a passive system was installed during construction.

Lowering high radon levels requires technical knowledge and special skills. You should use a contractor who is trained to fix radon problems. A qualified contractor can study the radon problem in your home and help you pick the right treatment method.

Check with your state radon office for names of qualified or state certified radon contractors in your area. You can also contact private radon proficiency programs for lists of privately certified radon professionals in your area. For more information on private radon proficiency programs, visit http://www.epa.gov/radon/proficiency.html. Picking someone to fix your radon problem is much like choosing a contractor for other home repairs - you may want to get references and more than one estimate.

If you are considering fixing your home's radon problem yourself, you should first contact your state radon office for guidance and assistance.

You also should test your home again after it is fixed to be sure that radon levels have been reduced. Most soil suction radon reduction systems include a monitor that will indicate whether the system is operating properly. In addition, it's a good idea to retest your home every two years to be sure radon levels remain low.

The Risk of Living With Radon

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer. And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.

Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).

Smoking combined with radon is an especially serious health risk. Stop smoking and lower your radon level to reduce your lung cancer risk.

Children have been reported to have greater risk than adults of certain types of cancer from radiation, but there are currently no conclusive data on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon.

Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • How much radon is in your home.
  • The amount of time you spend in your home.
  • Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked.

Additional information on health risks can be found at http://www.epa.gov/radon/healthrisks.html.

If you have further questions about radon, please call your state radon contact (http://www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html -- just click on your state), or call the National Radon Information Line at (800) 767-7236.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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