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.