Search Results for: radon

Indoors, Radon Stands Out

By Henry Slack

For the past twenty years, I’ve helped EPA fix indoor air pollution problems. Mold, odors, air cleaners, sick buildings, you name it – I’ve helped people learn how to manage these problems in their homes. The key thing I’ve learned: the most insidious indoor air pollutant is radon.

Radon is hidden and dangerous. We can’t see or smell it. The only way to know it’s around is to test for it. Did you know that radon in homes first drew concern as a public health threat after a worker at a nuclear power plant started setting off the plant’s radiation alarms? His home’s radon level was so high, he was carrying radiation into the plant. Yet he had no clue his home was radioactive before the testing started. The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” holds true.

Radon causes lung cancer, second only to smoking as the leading cause. It leads to an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Some of my relatives have had cancer; it’s serious. The good news, however, is that radon-induced lung cancer (like smoking) can be prevented. Testing your home and taking corrective actions to reduce high levels is easy, cheap, and local resources are available to help.

EPA has been talking about the dangers of radon for decades. Lately, the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) has joined the effort to raise awareness and help people take action to reduce their risk. Members share their personal stories about how high the radon levels were in their home, how they or a loved one battled against the disease, and how they want others to test for radon. Their goal: no one else having to watch someone they care about get sick and die of lung cancer.
Radon deaths are completely preventable. Please test your home, and fix it if you have a problem. Thank you.

About the author: Henry Slack from EPA’s Atlanta regional office has taught and helped people in the southeast with indoor air problems for more than 20 years.  His study of chemistry (B.S.) and mechanical engineering (M.S.) give him a strong background in the field, and he is active with the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).     

La prueba del radón: ¡Es inteligente y hasta un cavernícola la haría!

Es difícil pensar en una época en la cual ciertos lujos de hoy en día no existían. Los teléfonos móviles inteligentes, el correo electrónico, las fotocopiadoras a color y los blogs se han convertido en parte de nuestras vidas cotidianas. Hay algunas cosas, sin embargo, que han sido parte de la vida humana desde hace mucho tiempo atrás.
En tiempos pasados, nuestros antepasados se mantenían calientes junto al fuego en su cueva.  Y, si la caza era buena, se sentaban alrededor del fuego a disfrutar de la carne de reno, estofado de buey y raíces. El aire exterior era limpio y fresco, pero dentro de la cueva el aire podía estar lleno de humo y si la geología está en lo cierto, lleno de gas radón. ¿Por qué estoy escribiendo acerca de los cavernícolas y el radón? Bueno, también tienen unos antecesores antiguos.

Toda la tierra tiene cierta cantidad de uranio natural.  El uranio tiene una vida media radiológica de un poco mas de 4.4 mil millones de años.  Sigue siendo un material sólido en el suelo durante millones de años. Pero eventualmente el uranio se descompone en radio.  La forma más común del radio, que también es un elemento solido, se descompone en radón en unos 1600 años. 

Desafortunadamente, como muchos estadounidenses hoy en día, nuestros antepasados cavernícolas no tenían ni idea de la existencia del radón o cuáles son los riesgos a la salud asociados al mismo. Es un gas radioactivo y es la segunda causa principal de cáncer pulmonar.  El radón se puede encontrar en todos los EE.UU. Se puede encontrar en cualquier tipo de edificio, casas, oficinas y escuelas, e incluso en viviendas en las cavernas.

Enero es el Mes de Concienciación sobre el Radón. La única manera de saber si usted está en riesgo de radón es hacer la prueba de radón en su hogar. Es barata y fácil. Es lo que debe hacer para proteger a usted y su familia. Nuestros antepasados antiguos no tenían la tecnología para conocer el radón ni hacer la prueba, pero usted la tiene. Tome ventaja de las maravillas de la edad moderna y protéjase y a su familia, también.

Acerca del autor: Jack Stephen Barnette es un científico medio ambientalista de la oficina de Aire y Radiación en la Región  5 de la EPA en Chicago.  El señor Barnette ha estado trabajando en temas ambientales y de salud ambiental desde el año 1977.

Winter is a Great Time to Test your Home for Radon!

By Larainne Koehler

January is National Radon Action Month.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays is over and, here in New York City, we are having some of the coldest weather in years.  Our doors and windows are closed against the cold, and that’s one of the first steps in getting a good results from a radon test.

By now some of you are asking – “What is radon and why do you need a test for it?”  Others are remembering that they have heard about it, but haven’t taken action yet – what are you waiting for?

Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the decay of naturally occurring radium and uranium in the earth.  It is the second leading cause of lung cancer overall and the LEADING cause in non-smokers.  The EPA estimates that as many as 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year are caused by radon.  Radon is colorless and odorless, so the only way to know if your home has a problem is to test for it.

The EPA and the US Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon and if the levels are high, take steps to lower them.  Now you may be thinking  – “How do I find a test?”  Ready for that one – New Yorkers can get a test kit from the New York State Radon Program by going to their website and downloading an application.  The cost is only $8.50 per test kit.  Follow the instructions and send the kit back to the lab for analysis.   If you are a New Yorker at heart, but not actually living in New York State, you can also get test kits for $15 through the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University at

So take a step to protect your health and order a test kit today.  Get more information at

About the author: Larainne Koehler is the Radon and Indoor Air Coordinator for EPA Region 2 and has been working on issues associated with indoor air and radon since she joined the agency in 1984.

Radon Testing: It’s So Smart, A Caveman Would Do It!

By Jack Stephen Barnette,

It’s sometimes difficult to remember a time when certain luxuries of today didn’t exist. Smartphones, e-mail, color copy-machines and blogs have become part of our daily lives. There are some things, however, that have been part of human life for a lot longer.

Our ancient grandparents were once keeping warm by the campfire in their cave. And, if hunting was good, they would sit around the fire and enjoy reindeer steaks, muskox stew and roots. The outside air was clean and fresh, but inside the cave the air could be smoky, and, if the geology was right, full of radon gas. Why am I writing about cavemen and radon? Well, it too has ancient ancestors.

All soil has some amount of natural uranium. Uranium has a radiological half-life of a little more than 4.4 billion years. It remains a solid material in soil for eons, but uranium eventually breaks down to radium. The most common form of radium, which also is a solid element, breaks down to radon in roughly 1600 years.

Unfortunately, like many Americans today, our caveman ancestors didn’t have any idea what radon was or the health risks associated with it. It is a radioactive gas and is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon can be found all over the U.S. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices, schools – and even cave dwellings.

January is Radon Awareness Month. The only way to know if you are at risk from radon is to test your home for radon. Testing is cheap and easy, and it’s the right thing to do for you and your family. Our ancient ancestors did not have the technology to know about radon or to test for it; but you do. Please take advantage of the wonders of modern life and protect yourself and your family.

About the author: Jack Stephen Barnette is a Senior Environmental Scientist in the Air and Radiation Division at U.S.EPA’s Region 5 office in Chicago. Mr. Barnette has been working on environmental and environmental health issues since 1977.

It’s Radon Awareness Month!

By: Shelby Egan

Did you know that the month of January is specifically chosen to teach people about radon?  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found radon, a colorless and odorless gas, to be a health risk.  Although I am not a scientist I wanted to learn more about radon, so I interviewed Jack Barnette, a Senior Environmental Scientist at the EPA and a radon expert. 

What is radon and where does it come from?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from uranium and radium in the soil.

What should kids know about radon?

Kids should know that every home, school, daycare center or gathering space should be tested.  Kids should tell their parents that test kits are available at the state or county health department.  All home repair and hardware stores also sell these kits, which are very easy to use and inexpensive.

You mentioned that buildings should be tested with a radon test kit, how does the test kit work? 

Putting together the test kit is quite easy – just follow the instructions that come with the package. It should take less than 10 minutes.

Where do you put the test?

Ideally, the kit should be placed in the lowest lived in space in the home (or the lowest utilized rooms in a school). You should avoid bathrooms, laundry rooms and other areas with high humidity. If it can be hung somewhere in the middle of the room, between 3 and 6 feet off the floor – that would be perfect.

How long does it take to get results?

There are long-term and short-term tests. Long-term tests last more than 90 days. A short-term test is less than 90 days. Most home test kits are designed to take only 3 or 4 days.

How do you know if you’ve been exposed to radon?

You don’t really know if you have been exposed because you can’t see, smell or taste radon.  The only way to know is to buy a test kit.

What are the side effects of radon?

Radon doesn’t have any irritating symptoms, but the EPA has declared radon to be a health risk.  It is the second leading cause of lung cancer next to smoking.

How does radon get into schools?

Radon gets into buildings through cracks and/or openings that are exposed to the ground, especially in basements. 

What if my school is a new building that has been built in the past 5 years?  Does the age of the building affect whether radon can get inside?

Any building, new or old can have a radon problem. The only way to tell is by testing. One way that radon can enter a building is through cracks in the basement walls or floor. So, an old building with lots of cracks in the foundation might be a prime candidate for radon issues.

Can radon occur in both houses and apartments?

Yes, it can occur in any building.  Because people spend more than 90% of their time indoors, it is most dangerous in homes or schools where a lot of people spend their time.

So now that you know all the facts about radon, grab a parent and test your home for radon!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

Local Artist Warns about the Dangers of Radon

Even though today is officially the last day of National Radon Action Month, unhealthy levels of radon in households across the U.S. is an especially serious issue during cold winter months, when windows and doors are kept closed. EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck caught up with NYC resident and LaGuardia high school student Laura Dabalsa, the first place winner in the EPA and Kansas State University’s national Radon Poster Contest. In this candid video segment, the Regional Administrator explains that high levels of radon can be fixed simply and inexpensively so long as we all do our part to assist in promoting public awareness. Tune in to the clip below for a great shot of Laura’s poster, a fitting example of how art can be used educate the public on the dangers of radon.

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Working Together to Reduce Radon Exposure

By Philip Jalbert

I am very excited and proud to be part of a small team of EPA employees that is taking on an issue that is important to me both professionally and personally. The project is unprecedented in that it addresses a serious health risk: radioactive radon gas. Radon causes lung cancer and kills more than 21,000 Americans every year. An aunt of mine died of lung cancer at 56 – neither she nor anyone in her family ever smoked.

Last summer, the Federal government announced a Federal Radon Action Plan for protecting families from this unseen hazard. It culminated six months of intense and collaborative effort among several major Departments and Agencies. We need more collaboration like this, something not seen often enough in the Federal government.

More than 20 years ago radon debuted as a public health issue when a nuclear power plant worker set off radiation alarms going to work – he had a very high radon level in his home! The plan is the first to take a coordinated long-term approach to reducing the health risk from radon across federal agencies. The plan will focus on the millions of homes and schools the Feds control or influence. We are hoping that our actions will motivate the private sector, state and local governments to take more action.

As a nation we’ve made progress, yet today eight million American households are exposed to more than 4 picocuries of radon per liter of air – EPA’s recommended action level. Last year about 124,000 Americans took action to reduce the radon level in their homes. America’s home builders included radon reducing features in nearly 17% of all new homes. r

We hope this unprecedented plan will make the radon risk more visible, spur action and help save lives; especially those of low-income Americans without the resources to reduce their risk. You can learn more about the plan on our Federal Radon Action Plan website.

I’ve been with EPA since 1983 and first encountered radon while serving the U.S. Navy nuclear submarine program four decades ago. My work on radon since 1989 has been one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done. Test your home, the life you save may be your own.

About the author: Philip Jalbert presently works in EPA’s Indoor Environments Division in Washington, DC.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Plan Federal de Acción contra el Radón

Por Philip Jalbert

Hay un interesante proyecto en el cual un pequeño equipo y yo estamos personalmente involucrados. Este proyecto sin precedentes aborda el asunto de un serio riesgo de salud. Se trata del gas radioactivo radón. El radón causa cáncer pulmonar y mata a más de 21,0000 estadounidenses cada año. Tenía una tía que murió de cáncer a los 56 años y ni ella ni nadie de la familia habían fumado nunca.

El verano pasado, el gobierno federal anunció un plan federal de acción contra el radón para proteger a las personas y a las familias. Este fue el producto de seis meses de intenso trabajo y colaboración entre varios departamentos y agencias importantes. Necesitamos más colaboración de este tipo, algo que no se ve a menudo en el gobierno federal.

Hace más de 20 años que el radón se destacó como un problema de salud pública, cuando un trabajador de una planta de energía nuclear activó las alarmas de radiación cuando iba a trabajar, ya que tenía un nivel de radón muy alto en su casa. El plan es el primero en tener tratar de reducir los riesgos para la salud debido al radón mediante un enfoque coordinado a largo plazo a través de las agencias federales. El enfoque del plan se concentrará en los millones de hogares y escuelas que están bajo la autoridad e influencia de las agencias federales. Esperamos que nuestras acciones motiven a los sectores privados y a los gobiernos estatales y locales para que adopten más medidas.

Como nación, hemos progresado, pero aún hay ocho millones de hogares estadounidenses y un número desconocido de niños en nuestras escuelas que están expuestos a más de 4 picocuries de radón por litro de aire – el nivel de acción recomendado por la EPA. El año pasado alrededor de 124,000 estadounidenses tomaron medidas para reducir el nivel de radón en sus hogares. Los constructores en los Estados Unidos están incluyendo componentes para reducir el radón en casi un 17% de todas las casas nuevas.

Esperamos que este plan sin precedentes haga que el riesgo del radón sea más visible, que estimule a tomar acción y ayude a salvar vidas, especialmente los de bajos ingresos que no tienen los recursos para reducir su riesgo. Usted puede aprender más sobre el plan en.

He estado con la EPA desde el año 1983, y encontré por primera vez el radón, mientras estaba al servicio de la Marina de los EE. UU. en el programa de submarinos nucleares hace cuatro décadas atrás. Mi trabajo sobre el radón, desde 1989 ha sido una de las cosas más satisfactorias que he hecho. Haga la prueba en su casa, la vida que salve puede ser la suya.

Sobre el autor: Philip Jalbert actualmente trabaja en la División Medioambiental de los Interiores de la EPA en Washington, DC

Winning with Radon

My name is Hayden.  I am a sixth grader from Athens, GA.  I entered a poster contest about testing your home for radon and won first place in the state and second place for the nation. I learned a lot about radon and how each year it kills more people than drunk driving.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Also, if you smoke, it can further increase your chances of getting lung cancer.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that can be found all over the United States.  It is a natural occurring element that comes from the ground.  Radon can seep through cracks or pipes and get into your home.  The odorless, invisible gas gets trapped inside buildings and houses which can be dangerous to your health.

Testing is the only way to determine the level of radon in your home, school or building. Radon detection kits are not very expensive and can be purchased online, as well as at hardware stores and other retail outlets.  The kits come with instructions that are easy to follow and should only take a few minutes of your time.

If you discover your home has high levels of radon, professionals can help reduce the amount of trapped radon and help you lower the risk of radon-induced lung cancer.  You can also build new homes that are equipped to be radon-resistant.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sponsors a national poster contest each year for children between the ages of 9 and 14. The radon specialists need your help in spreading facts about radon.  So get busy and spread the word that radon kills!   Visit to learn more about radon and to gather information about the annual poster contest.

Radon: A Leading Environmental Cause of Cancer Mortality

By Dr Susan Conrath

Throughout my career as a Public Health Service Officer and EPA employee, I have always been surprised by the relatively low level of radon awareness throughout the country. Radon is a Class A carcinogen- we know that it causes cancer in humans. But, this huge environmental risk is not on most individuals’ “radar screens.” Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil. Since it is a gas it can easily move through spaces in the soil and escape into the air where it is diluted. However, when radon enters a home through cracks in the foundation or other openings, it becomes trapped inside and can accumulate. You can’t see, smell or taste radon, but it’s there. In fact, its discovery as an indoor air issue occurred when an individual, Stanley Watras, set off radiation alarms in a nuclear power plant because his home’s levels were so high.

Many people do not realize that radon is the number two cause of lung cancer in the U.S.; exceeded only by smoking. For never-smokers radon is the number one cause of lung cancer. Scientific studies have confirmed the risk and show no evidence that there is any “safe” level of radon.

As shown on our Health Risks Page radon-induced lung cancer deaths [at the U.S. average indoor air concentration of 1.3 picocuries/Liter of air [1.3pCi/L]] are in the same general range as deaths from leukemia and lymphoma and are greater than a number of selected cancers that we currently spend large amounts of money to research and/or combat.

Protect your family! The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test. Testing is easy and inexpensive. If your level is high fix the problem. It’s one of the best investments you can make for your family’s health and it will enhance the future sales potential of your home by making it a healthier place to live. Learn more about how to test and fix for radon.

If you are building a house or having one built, radon-resistant new construction [RRNC] techniques can be used to avoid having to deal with high radon concentrations. It’s less expensive to install RRNC during construction than to have to fix a radon problem at a later date.

About the author: Dr Susan Conrath is a CAPTAIN with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She works in the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air as an epidemiologist and international expert on radon risk.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.