Radon Testing

Want Less Cancer from Environmental Causes? Let’s Get Building Codes to Reduce Radon

By Jani Palmer

As part of our Indoor Environments Division, my colleagues and I work to reduce people’s exposure to radon, the leading environmental cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water – where it naturally occurs. Radon gets into the air we breathe, and it can be found all over the country. It can get into any type of building — homes, offices and schools. You are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time.

The good news is that radon is easy to detect and fix. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. And, part of my job at EPA is to introduce radon safety features into state and local building codes, like adding a pipe to collect radon from under the home before it has a chance to get inside. If jurisdictions and states adopt codes that require radon-reducing features to be built into new homes and buildings, far fewer Americans would be at risk of getting lung cancer. After all, building a home with radon-reducing features is much cheaper and easier than fixing elevated radon levels in a home that has already been built.

Recently, I participated in the International Code Council’s International Green Construction Code hearing. At the hearing, my task was to ask the room full of committee members to not remove radon reduction features from the code. I only had two minutes to plead my case, and I think I delivered a powerful message.

Spoiler alert: The vote on my issue was not successful. One committee member believed that radon didn’t harm people; another believed that adding radon reducing features was too expensive. Neither of these are true. This means that we need to invest more time in educating codes professionals on radon. So, while I was there, I met stakeholders that just might help us succeed in the future.

Momentum is on our side. More and more state and local jurisdictions are adopting radon building codes, and many voluntary green labeling programs require radon testing and mitigation. Builders are also including radon-resistant construction techniques in new homes.

We’ll continue to work with states, local groups and industry to spread the word about the protection that radon codes offer, and we’ll continue trying to get radon covered by the International Code Council.

About the author: Jani Palmer is a scientist in the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. She has provided indoor air quality and industrial hygiene services for public and private alike, and is currently serving as Radon Team Leader.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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National Radon Action Month

By Wendy Dew

I work in EPA’s Denver regional office, and we’re proud to congratulate 14-year-old Maison Ann Williams, from Utah, who was the first place winner in the 2014 National Radon Poster Contest. It never ceases to amaze me how engaged kids are in protecting the environment.

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. EPA estimates there are about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year from radon exposure in the U.S. It can be found all over the U.S. and it can get into any type of building — homes, offices, and schools. You can’t see radon, and you can’t smell or taste it, but it may be a problem in your home. The good news is that you can pretty easily fix the problem.

It’s important to get your home tested; I should know. We knew our new house in Colorado had higher than safe levels of radon (it’s built on a large granite boulder, surrounded by decomposing granite). Within a few weeks of moving in, we put in a radon mitigation system with a commercial-sized fan and two vents in our basement. We tested continuously for a year, and our levels went down to safer levels. Whew!

Teaching others about radon, and what you can do about it, is where the poster contest comes in, which we run with Kansas State University. Tell your kids that entries for this year’s contest will be accepted from March through October. Students ages 9-14 from states and tribal nations across the country, and all U.S. territories, are encouraged to create posters that raise radon awareness and encourage radon testing in every home. The top three national winners will win a prize, and their poster will be used in radon awareness efforts.

I’m so glad that students like Maison are helping to spread the word about radon and the danger it can pose to families. Remember: test, test, and test some more if you do not know what the radon levels are in your home. January is National Radon Action Month … what a great time to test!

For more information

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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A Healthier You In 2012

By Lina Younes

At the beginning of the year, I decided that 2012 was going to be the year for me to get healthier. I thought that if I used that as my guiding light for the months ahead, this resolution would likely survive beyond the month of January.

Granted that in order to get healthier, I needed to make some changes to my daily habits. Lifestyle changes and making better choices are definitely required to be successful in reaching my goal. There is no doubt that losing weight seems to be in everyone’s top five New Year resolutions. However when the pounds don’t come off as fast as we like, we are likely to be disillusioned and return to our unhealthy practices. So, what are some of the lifestyle changes that I’ve made to achieve my healthier goal? Well, I’ve started by making healthier eating choices. How about eating more fruits and vegetables? How about looking at our  old cookbooks for creative recipes that not only include healthier foods, but add some variety to the menu? How about exercising more? I’m not talking necessarily about going on the treadmill that has been collecting dust in the basement. I mean we can take longer walks even when we walk our dog. That’s a nice way of getting some fresh air and getting some exercise without really trying. Also, don’t forget the sun block even if it’s wintertime.

What other choices can we make to have a healthier lifestyle?

  • Well, reducing the amount of clutter around the home is a great start to get in the right state of mind.
  • Increasing our recycling rate is another good habit at home and at work.
  • Testing your home for radon will also help you to have a healthier home.
  • Reading the label first before using household chemical products and pesticides

These are just a few of  the healthy habits that should lead to a healthier 2012. Why don’t you commit to taking action for a healthier you and a healthier environment? Visit EPA’s Pick 5 for some suggestions.

As always, we would like to hear from you. What have you done to make 2012 a healthier year for you and your family?

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as EPA’s Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison in the Office of External Affairs and Environmental Education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Mobile Apps and Our New Year’s Resolutions

By Carmen Torrent

In January, people reflect on their lives and make a list of things they want to get, change or strike out. The tradition of making resolutions comes from ancient times. The Roman Empire established January 1 as the beginning of the year and placed Janus, a mystic god, as the guardian of the door of the New Year, and he became the symbol of the resolution. Janus has two faces representing beginnings and endings, one looking to the past and the other to the future.

Topping my list of resolutions this year is to be healthier, and part of being healthier is to maintain a healthy home. That’s why I decided to test my home for radon. Now that I know radon is the number two cause of lung cancer behind smoking, testing for radon is a high priority for me. While it’s true that we all start the New Year determined to carry out our resolutions, I know that as time goes by some are forgotten. Like my grandmother used to say, “It’s easier said than done.” And I didn’t want to forget this important resolution, so I came up with an idea that would help me achieve my resolutions this year, and I get to have fun using my new smartphone.

I recorded my resolutions on my phone and then I used a mobile application to remind me of my new year’s resolutions: “How do I test for radon?” And the app sent me to find out how to test my home and what to do if I have high radon. Try it; it’s fun! Never thought that I would put this technology to good use to protect the environment.

January marks the beginnings in many ways, and it’s also designated by EPA as National Radon Action Month. Radon is a radioactive gas; it is invisible and odorless. Radon gas enter the lungs when you inhale, the radioactive particles damage your lung tissue and can cause lung cancer. You can have a healthier home simply by testing your home and taking the necessary actions to lower radon levels. The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test, and what a better time to test than in the New Year? For more information on health risks, visit

Today let’s look to the future. Do not wait; test your home for radon and make the necessary repairs to your home, it could save your life.

About the author: Carmen Torrent a public affairs specialist in EPA’s Office of Indoor Air.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Radon – Why Do We Ignore It?

By Shelly Rosenblum

Psychology is fascinating, especially when you consider how we use it on ourselves – or against ourselves to be more precise. When do we use it against ourselves? When we put things off that are good for us, like cutting back on junk food, or skipping the gym, or when we hear someone tell us to test for radon and we don’t.

While it’s difficult to perceive how something we can’t see or smell can hurt us, is there something else stopping us from taking action? After all, the Surgeon General and public health organizations like the ALA and EPA tell us that radon is a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking. We usually take messages from these folks to heart, so why ignore radon?

Dr. Peter M. Sandman is an expert on risk communication. He helps people understand why we fear some things that carry little risk and overlook things which carry a huge risk – like radon. He describes this behavior with a formula: Risk = hazard + outrage. Outrage? What’s that? Suppose a company spills a toxic substance in your neighborhood, creating a health hazard. We’d be angry. Then suppose they’re not forthcoming about the quantity spilled and danger level. We’d be even more angry or OUTRAGED!

The more outraged we were, the greater the perceived risk. Even if the hazard was small, but the outrage large, we’d still perceive a large risk. Now apply this to radon: since it’s natural, there’s no one to be angry with – no outrage. With no one to blame, we somehow convince ourselves that the risk is smaller. This lack of outrage allows us to fool ourselves into not taking action. But consider this: if you found that your children’s school had not tested for radon, or if they had tested, found elevated levels and not told anyone, you’d be outraged – suddenly you would perceive the risk as huge – you would demand action. Consider further, one day your children may have reason to be outraged – at YOU – for not having tested the home they grew-up in!

Test, Fix, Save a Life. Testing is simple and inexpensive. The cost of fixing a home with elevated levels is comparable to other minor home repairs. It’s cheap insurance – against lung cancer and against having your children outraged at you! Learn more about how to test and fix your home.

About the author: Shelly Rosenblum works on the Radiation & Indoor Environments Teams at EPA’s Region 6 Office in San Francisco, CA.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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El radón puede ser radiactivo y causar cáncer pulmonar, pero ¿acaso puede activar las alarmas en una planta de energía nuclear?

Hay muchas cosas que usted puede hacer por su salud.  Yo, yo voy a vivir para siempre.  Yo como vegetales, tomo vitaminas, hago ejercicios, compro productos orgánicos, evito los productos químicos, utilizo un filtro de aire, y tomo té verde. ¿Sabe en qué debería estar pensando?.  Bueno, el año pasado, escribí acerca de cómo hice la prueba de radón en mi casa, ¿se acuerda? Treinta años atrás, la prueba de radón no estaba en la lista de deberes para tener una casa y un cuerpo sano.   De hecho cuando estaba pequeña mis padres no hicieron la prueba de radón en nuestro hogar.

¿Por qué hice la prueba de radón en mi casa? Es simple. Pensé en el señor Stanley Watras y su familia.  El señor Watras trabajó como ingeniero de construcción en la planta de energía nuclear Limerick en Pensilvania.  Un día mientras entraba a la planta, se activó la alarma de radiación.  ¿Cómo sucedió esto?, es un misterio ya que no se había traído material radiactivo a la planta.  Los investigadores en búsqueda de la fuente de radiación, finalmente, decidieron hacer la prueba de radón en su casa.  Increíblemente, la cantidad de radón a la que el señor Watras estaba expuesto en su casa (foto abajo) era suficiente para activar las alarmas de radiación en una planta nuclear.  El nivel de radón en el hogar de Watras era de un promedio de 2,700 pCi/L. En mi casa el nivel de radón era cerca de 6 pCI/L.

Radon

Aunque  el nivel de radón en mi casa no estaba activando ninguna alarma de radiación,  aun se consideraba alto.  La Agencia de Protección Ambiental (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés) recomienda que se reduzca el radón en su hogar si es de 4 pCi/L o mayor.

El primer paso para prevenir el cáncer pulmonar debido al radón es hacer la prueba de radón en su hogar; pero esto no va a cambiar nada a menos que usted haga algo al respecto.   Si los niveles de radón en la casa del señor Watras se pudieron reducir de 2,700 pCi/L a  menos de 4 pCi/L, también los suyos pueden reducirse.  Visite la página web de la EPA para más información, incluyendo cómo encontrar un profesional calificado en radón que pueda hacer la prueba de radón en su hogar, hacer la prueba o realizar operaciones de mitigación.  También podrá aprender acerca de cómo se puede construir una casa nueva con características resistentes al radón.

Acerca del autor: Jani Palmer es una científica en el Centro para el Radón y Tóxicos del Aire de la EPA en la División de Entornos Internos.  Ella ha estado trabajando en la calidad del aire interior  y en el campo de la higiene ambiental hace más de 10 años, dando sus servicios como consultora ambiental tanto a distritos escolares como a la industria y las agencias públicas.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

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Radon May Be Radioactive And Cause Cancer, But Can It Set Off Alarms In A Nuclear Power Plant?

By Jani Palmer

There’s a lot that you can do for your health. Me, I’m going to live forever. I eat my veggies, take vitamins, exercise, buy organic, avoid chemicals, use a pleated air filter and drink green tea. Know what else you should be thinking about? Well, last year I wrote about how I tested my home,  remember? Thirty some years ago, testing for radon wasn’t on the list of things to do for a healthy home and body. When I was a kid, my parents certainly weren’t testing for radon.

Why did I test my home? Simple; I think about Stanley Watras and his family. Stanley Watras worked as a construction engineer building the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Pennsylvania. As he entered the facility one day, he set off the radiation alarm. How this happened was a mystery since no radioactive material had yet been brought into the plant. Investigators searched for the source and finally decided to test his home for radon. Incredibly, the amount of radon to which Mr. Watras was exposed at home (photo below) was sufficient to activate radiation alarms in a nuclear power plant. The radon level in my home was about 6 pCi/L; the level in Stanley Watras’ home averaged 2,700 pCi/L.

While the radon level in my home wasn’t setting off any radiation alarms, it was still considered high. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends action to reduce radon if the radon level in your home is 4 pCi/L or higher.

Testing your home is the first step, but it’s not going to change anything unless you take action. If the radon in Stanley Watras’ home can be reduced from 2,700 pCi/L to under 4 pCi/L, then so can yours. Visit EPA’s radon home page for more insight, including how to find a qualified radon service professional to test or mitigate your home, and how to build a new home with radon-resistant features .

About the author: Jani Palmer is a physical scientist in EPA’s Center for Radon and Air Toxics, Indoor Environments Division. She has been in the indoor air quality and industrial hygiene field for more than 10 years providing environmental consulting and services for school districts, industry and public agencies.

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here 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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.