Radon is an odorless, invisible, and radioactive gas that can enter through a home’s foundation. Once it enters a home, residents breathe it in, and over time it can change the DNA in the lungs. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, so it’s important to understand your home’s radon levels to reduce your risk.
The only way you can determine your home’s radon level is through specialized testing (don’t stress, Utah Radon Services makes it free and easy to test your home!). Once you receive your results, you may be wondering, “What’s next?”. While it’s best to reduce radon to as low of a level as possible, certain levels require immediate action.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have very clear guidelines on what to do if your home tests high for radon gas. However, some of these guidelines can cause confusion without the proper context. We’re here to help you choose when it is best to install a radon mitigation system so you can have peace of mind.
To understand action levels, it’s helpful to know a little bit about radon levels in general and where the action levels came from. In the United States, the average radon concentration is 0.4 pCi/L outdoors and 1.3 pCi/L indoors. In Utah, the average radon concentration is 5.3 pCi/L indoors. This is because the soil has higher amounts of uranium in the ground. This radon level has the equivalent cancer risk of smoking 10 cigarettes a day, and the Utah Department of Environmental Quality estimates 1 in 3 Utah homes has high, dangerous radon levels.
While there is no “safe” level of radon, the EPA and WHO established levels where homes should be mitigated, largely based on how low the radon levels could be reduced to when the guidelines were established. The EPA created its action level 37 years ago and recommends mitigation at 4.0 pCi/L, but also recommends “considering” mitigation when radon levels are between 2.0–4.0 pCi/L. This is where some confusion creeps into the general public’s understanding of radon action levels.
Many homeowners have focused on the 4.0 pCi/L guideline and discarded the 2.0–4.0 pCi/L guideline, resulting in a false sense of security. This misconception is most frequently seen during the home buying and selling process as most agents continue to use the EPA’s 1986 recommendation of mitigating at 4.0 pCi/L. Mitigation technology has come a long way since the EPA’s 4.0 pCi/L action level was released, so it’s important to remember that radon is a radioactive gas that causes lung cancer. The goal should always be to lower the concentration to the lowest level possible.
A radon level below 2.0 pCi/L generally does not require immediate action. But what happens if your home falls in the gray area between 2.0–4.0?
The WHO established its 2.7 pCi/L action level more recently than the EPA, and it is widely accepted as the standard in most countries across the globe. Like the EPA, the WHO has also emphasized that while they have set an action level, every effort should be made to reduce radon as low as reasonably possible.
In the United States, the EPA recommends “considering” mitigation between 2.0–4.0 pCi/L. What does the EPA mean when they say to “consider” mitigation? The main factor to help you decide if you should install a system is based on the lowest livable floor in the home. If your lowest floor is unfinished or unoccupied, there isn’t as much urgency to have the home mitigated. However, if you have someone living on that floor or if you use it frequently, it’s a good idea to have a system installed to reduce your exposure risk. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide on a system based on their home and lifestyle (while remembering there is no “safe” level of radon).
If you choose not to install a mitigation system right away, you should make a note to retest your home within another year or two as radon levels fluctuate based on the outside temperature, seismic activity, and any changes made to your home’s air circulation. This is especially important if you tested in the warmer months and your result was below 2.0 pCi/L. Radon levels tend to increase in the colder months, so you should complete your next test in the winter.
Based on all the information provided by both the EPA and WHO, and from the tens of thousands of tests we have performed in Utah, here’s what we recommend:
If you have questions about radon, you’re welcome to contact our radon experts at 801-872-6710. You can click here to request a mitigation system bid for your home, or to request a free radon test, click here.
Radon is an odorless, invisible, and radioactive gas that can enter through a home’s foundation. With prolonged exposure, those living inside are at an increased risk of lung cancer and other lung diseases.
Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and the second leading cause in smokers. In fact, radon is attributed to 21,000 lung-cancer-related deaths each year. That being said, what happens when you combine high radon exposure and smoking, and what can you do about it?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you are 10X more likely to develop lung cancer if you smoke cigarettes and live in a home with high radon levels.
The simple answer for reducing lung cancer risk is, of course, to stop smoking. However, we know this may be easier said than done, and there are still steps you can take while you work with a medical provider or quit line.
The second thing you can do is test your home for radon gas. Radon testing is a simple, straightforward process that can be completed in just a few days. All you need to do is request a free test from Utah Radon Services and follow the step-by-step instructions when your test arrives. Once you receive your results, we’ll walk you through the process of mitigation to reduce your risk, if necessary. Remember: Any home can have high radon levels (In fact, one in three Utah homes does!).
Questions? Contact us at 801-872-6710.
KSLTV.com Article by Ladd Egan
SALT LAKE CITY —Lehi – Radon Cancer - A Utah woman is warning others about the danger of radon after she received a stage 4 cancer diagnosis for non-smoking lung cancer.
“The oncologist explained that it had metastasized,” Lehi resident Kerri Robbins said. “So it had gone from my lungs to my brain.”
Doctors first discovered the brain tumors when the 65-year-old went to the emergency room in June after she started throwing up one morning and was confused.
“As I’m washing my hands I’m looking in the mirror and I don’t know why I’m there,” Robbins said.
Follow-up visits revealed the primary source as lung cancer. It wasn’t until she made an appointment with a specialist that she thought about what may have caused her cancer.
“The first thing he said was, ‘Have you had your house tested for radon?’” Robbins recalled.
She and her husband recently had their home tested. The results revealed the radon level in their home was 31.3 picocuries per liter.
“30 picocuries is like smoking three packs of cigarettes every day,” said Eleanor Divver, the radon coordinator at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s heartbreaking to hear these stories and yet I hear them every day.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s action level for fixing a home for radon is anything higher than 4 picocuries per liter.
“I love my house. I love my neighborhood and come to find out that that’s probably what’s given me cancer,” Robbins said. “I get up the next morning and I thought, ‘I’ve got to let people know this.’”
Like most of us, Robbins spent more time at home during the pandemic. But even before the pandemic she worked at home. Her office is on the lowest level of her home, where radon typically gathers.
“I’m working in that office five days a week,” she said.
Her husband, Ron, is now going to the doctor for his own scan. He says radon wasn’t even on their radar.
“You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it,” Ron Robbins said.
Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally in the ground as uranium and other metals break down, according to the EPA. It enters homes through cracks and gaps in the foundation.
Known as a slow and silent killer, radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year in the U.S., the EPA said.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the Beehive State even though we have the lowest smoking rate in the nation, according to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
“We know that the risks are great for lung cancer,” Divver said.
Children at more at risk, Divver said, because they’re lower to the ground, breathe more often and because of the shape of their lungs.
“We see the highest levels in the winter months,” she said.
In the winter, people keep their doors and windows shut, keeping the radon trapped inside.
“I’m probably seeing the higher radon levels in newer homes because we’re making homes so airtight,” Divver said. “We’re building in areas where we used to mine. So we’re seeing it everywhere.”
The only way for Utahns to know if their home has elevated levels of the cancer-causing gas is to get a test.
Utah residents can order discounted tests for under $11 through Alpha Energy Laboratories. The price includes postage to return the test and the laboratory analysis.
Health departments in Summit, Tooele, Wasatch, and Box Elder counties, along with the Bear River Health Department sell discounted radon tests at their offices.
Utah Radon Services offers a free radon test.
One in three houses in Utah that were tested had radon levels higher than what’s considered safe. Across the country, the EPA said one in 15 homes has too much radon.
The EPA recommends testing your home for radon every two years and to test after any renovations or if family members begin living in the basement.
TJ Mellars with Utah Radon Services said the good news is that you can rid your home of high radon levels with a mitigation system.
“So that the gases, instead of getting pushed up into the home have an escape route by getting sucked up through the radon pipe and then vented above the roof line.”
This week his company installed a system at the Robbins’ home.
“It’s a small expense to pay to reduce the risk of lung cancer,” Mellars said.
Mellars said the every home is different and to not forgo testing based off of assumptions or how your neighbor’s home tested.
“A lot of people think only old homes with big cracks in the foundation have radon and that’s simply not the case,” Mellars said. “New homes are just as susceptible”
Robbins is undergoing treatment and warning her neighbors and anyone who will listen about the dangers of radon.
“You’ve got to know,” she said. ”Please, get tested.”
She’s focusing on spending time with her family and friends and is staying busy baking hundreds of Christmas cookies for her neighborhood.
“I’m so incredibly blessed because there’s a lot of other people whose stories are much different than mine,” Robbins said. “I’m sure at some point in time it won’t be very pretty. But in the meantime, we’re going to take every minute we can get.”
Credit: This article appeared on KSL TV on November 16, 2022; "Utah woman warns others about radon after cancer diagnosis", By Ladd Egan https://ksltv.com/511741/utah-woman-warns-about-radon-after-cancer-diagnosis