Radon is one of several carcinogenic health hazards that can be found in the home environment. Testing is the only way to know if a home has a high concentration of radon. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend that the all residences below the third floor of a building be tested for radon. In apartment buildings, it is most important to test units on the basement level where radon from the ground is likely to be highest, but the first and second floors should also be tested.Anyone can conduct a radon test. There are both short-term and long-term radon tests. EPA recommends initial measurements for radon be taken with short-term tests placed in the lowest lived-in level of the residence. Radon testing kits are available at a discounted price from the National Safety Council’s Radon Hotline (1-800-767-7236) and at various retail locations such as hardware stores. Almost all states recommend that the homeowner or tenant conduct the test himself or herself or hire a contractor who is certified by the National Environmental Health Association or the National Radon Safety Board. A list of certified testers can be obtained by contacting the radon office in the relevant state, the National Environmental Health Association’s Radon Proficiency Program, or the National Radon Safety Board.
Once a radon test has been obtained, the enclosed directions are usually easy to follow and the procedure is simple and straightforward. Typically, the process will consist of setting out a small canister or packet containing activated carbon in the lowest occupied portion of the home and then, two days later, collecting the container, placing it in a foil bag, and mailing it to a lab. The lab should be able to report the results within one week. More detailed guidelines on radon testing are available at www.cehrc.org.
The EPA has established a recommended action guideline of four picocuries of radon per liter (pCi/L) of air in residences. EPA recommends that action be taken to reduce radon levels when this guideline is exceeded. No state requires action on a result above this guideline to bring radon levels down. The presence of radon over the EPA standard is not a violation of local housing codes in most cities. The long-term goal is to reduce indoor radon levels to outdoor average levels of 0.4 pCi/L. Because of technology limits, EPA’s short-term goal is to get a home’s radon concentrations below two pCi/L.
If test results exceed the EPA recommended action guideline of four pCi/L, a second follow-up measurement should be taken and depending on the results, EPA standards may recommend radon mitigation. If such actions are going to be taken in the home, there are many options within two broad categories of action—prevent the radon from entering the home, or reduce the level of radon after it has entered. For all options, EPA recommends that a contractor be retained to do the work and estimates that this will cost from $500 to $2500 per home, depending on the characteristics of the structure and choice of radon reduction methods. Common methods may involve the installation of underground pipes, venting fans, plastic sheeting, and/or sealants over floor and wall cracks.
- Environmental Law Institute, Indoor Air Quality Database, Radon [PDF]
- Environmental Law Institute, “State Radion Legislation—Issues and Options,” 1993 [PDF]
- Field, R. William, et. al., “The Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 151 No. 11, 2000 [PDF] (large file)
- Field, R. William, et. al, “The Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study,” University of Iowa College of Public Health
- Field, R. William, “Radon Occurance and Health Risk,” Virtual Hospital, www.vh.org
- Government Accountability Office Report, “Actions to Promote Radon Testing,” December 1992 [PDF]
- Government Accountablity Office Testimony, “Radon Testing in Federal Buildings Needs Improvement and HUD’s Radon Policy Needs Strengthening,” May 1991 [PDF]
- National Academies Report in Brief, “BEIR VII: Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation,” June 2005 [PDF]
- Radon Gas and Indoor Air Quality Research, part of Public Law 99-499 [PDF]
- Relevant radon section, Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Amendments Act of 1988, Public Law 100-628 [PDF]
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction: How to fix your home” [PDF]
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Home Buyer’s Seller’s Guide to Radon” [PDF] (large file)
- World Health Organization, “The 1st Meeting of National Experts for WHO’s International Radon Project,” January 2005 [PDF]
Sources and Additional Information:
Community Environmental Health Resource Center (CEHRC) – www.cehrc.org
National Environmental Health Association, National Radon Proficiency Program – www.radongas.org/
National Radon Safety Board – www.nrsb.org
National Safety Council – www.nsc.org/ehc/radon.htm
US Environmental Protection Agency – www.epa.gov/iaq/radon/