The Risk of Living With Radon
Scientists are more certain about radon risks than from most
other cancer-causing substances.
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).
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
MYTH: Scientists aren't sure radon really is a problem.
FACT: Although some scientists dispute the precise number of deaths due to radon, all the major health organizations (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association) agree with estimates that
radon causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths every year. This is especially true among smokers, since the risk to smokers is much greater than to non-smokers.
MYTH: Radon testing is difficult, time consuming and expensive.
FACT: Radon testing is easy. You can test your home yourself or hire a qualified radon test company. Either approach takes only a small amount of time and effort.
MYTH: Homes with radon problems can't be fixed.
FACT: There are simple solutions to radon problems in homes. Hundreds of thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon problems in their homes. Most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs; check with one or more qualified mitigators. Call your state radon office for help in identifying qualified mitigation contractors.
MYTH: Radon affects only certain kinds of homes.
FACT: House construction can affect radon levels. However, radon can be a problem in homes of all types: old homes, new homes, drafty homes, insulated homes, homes with basements, homes without basements. Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are among the factors that can affect radon levels in homes.
MYTH: Radon is only a problem in certain parts of the country.
FACT: High radon levels have been found in every state. Radon problems do vary from area to area, but the only way to know your radon level is to test.
MYTH: A neighbor's test result is a good indication of whether your home has a problem.
FACT: It's not. Radon levels can vary greatly from home to home. The only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to test it.
MYTH: Everyone should test their water for radon.
FACT: Although radon gets into some homes through water, it is important to first test the air in the home for radon. If your water comes from a public water supply that uses ground water, call your water supplier. If high radon levels are found and the home has a private well, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1 800-426-4791 for information on testing your water.
MYTH: It's difficult to sell homes where radon problems have been discovered.
FACT: Where radon problems have been fixed, home sales have not been blocked or frustrated. The added protection is some times a good selling point.
MYTH: I've lived in my home for so long, it doesn't make sense to take action now.
FACT: You will reduce your risk of lung cancer when you reduce radon levels, even if you've lived with a radon problem for a long time.
MYTH: Short-term tests can't be used for making a decision about whether to fix your home.
FACT: A short-term test, followed by a second short-term test* can be used to decide whether to fix your home. However, the closer the average of your two short-term tests is to 4 pCi/L, the less certain you can be about whether your year-round average is above or below that level. Keep in mind that radon levels below 4 pCi/L still pose some risk. Radon levels can be reduced in most homes to 2 pCi/L or below.
* If the radon test is part of a real estate transaction, the result of two short-term tests can be used in deciding whether to mitigate. For more information, see EPA's "Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon".