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It’s Radon Awareness Month!

2013 January 10

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.

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.

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Kerry Frank permalink
    January 11, 2013

    We have a daughter that is a leukemia survivor when we tested our home it was 21, way above the recommended amount. We had simple mitigation done, and although we are earth contact it maintains a safe level year round. There are now plug in monitors; similar to a co2 detector. We have one and run it every other month to track ongoing levels. Though the verdict is out in the US related to leukemia and radon, it would one sense that fast changing cells like those found in your bone marrow, would be affected similarly to those found in lung tissue. European studies have found a. Correlation, but are unpopular due to control issues in the US.

    • U.S. EPA permalink
      January 22, 2013

      Thank you for your comment. U.S. EPA always recommends the use of radon test devices that are certified by one of the national certification organizations – The National Radon Proficiency Program or the National Radon Safety Board – or by a state radon program. Certified devices should have one of those certification labels on the packaging. Though the plug in radon monitors are easy to use, the U.S. EPA Agency advises that results from these types of monitors be confirmed using certified radon test devices.

  2. Matus Majersky permalink
    January 16, 2013

    Radon gas is very well known issue in US compared to Canada. Our government has been very late to this problem. Please share your resources and help other Canadians to learn more about the radon gas.

    Health Canada:

    Lung Association:

    Radon Testing:

    Radon Test Kit for Canadians

    Canadian Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists:

    Canadian National Radon Proficiency Program:

  3. Holly Jameson permalink
    June 20, 2013

    Radon gas emissions are common world wide.

    We get high levels here, but no signs of anyone suffering bad side effects.

    So .. Unfortunately I cannot agree with many of these views.

    However I always tolerate other persons’ opinions.

    I’ll be following your blog with great interest.

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