Chemical
Test Your Air for Radon

Test Your Air for Radon

July 30, 2013

Radon is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless radioactive gas that naturally occurs in some soils, water supplies, and rocks. It’s easily inhaled by anyone exposed to it and is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Radon gas can seep into your home through foundation cracks, construction joints, utility access points, porous materials, and other underground openings. It can also come in via contaminated water that releases it during showers and other tasks.

While some regions are more prone to radon issues than others, any home in any area of the country can be affected, and all homeowners and renters should conduct a radon test at least once, ideally before occupying their dwelling.

Radon gas levels are considered high when they reach four picocuries per liter of air. About one in 15 American homes has high levels of radon gas, but lesser amounts can also be hazardous. In affected homes, radon levels can fluctuate from day to day depending on ventilation and weather conditions. Drinking radon-contaminated water may also be unhealthy, but research suggests that these risks are much lower than those posed by inhalation.

The good news is that radon tests are simple to conduct, and any problems they identify are easy to rectify. Two types of home test kits, short- and long-term, are available from hardware stores and state environmental departments. Both types are typically placed in the basement or the lowest habitable portion of your home in an area where they won’t be disturbed during the test period. Long-term tests (90 days or more) yield a more accurate average. When the test period is completed, the kit is sent to a lab for analysis that’s usually included in its cost.

If radon gas is found at levels that warrant action, several relatively inexpensive methods are available to remediate the danger. These include boosting ventilation of enclosed spaces, installing an exhaust system, and sealing foundation cracks and other entry points. Despite their affordability, these solutions do require the assistance of trained professionals. Your state radon office can refer you to a qualified contractor.

For more information about radon, check out the EPA’s Citizen’s Guide to Radon.