A: Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.
Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. Sometimes radon enters the home through well water (see "Radon in Water," https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-9.html). In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, too. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.
RADON GETS IN THROUGH:
A: You can't see radon, but it's not hard to find out if you have a radon problem in your home. All you need to do is test for radon. There are short-term tests and long-term (cumulative) tests but, in general, testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in "picocuries per liter of air," or "pCi/L." There are many kinds of low-cost "do-it-yourself" radon test kits you can get through the mail and in some hardware stores and other retail outlets. If you prefer, or if you are buying or selling a home, you can hire Patterson to do the testing for you. Or you can contact your state radon office about obtaining a list of qualified testers. You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area. For links and information, visit www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html.
A: Regulations about radon testing and mitigation are fluid and subject to change, so the only way to answer that with certainty is to check with the government agencies for your location. In general, however, home buyers and renters are more frequently asking about radon levels before they buy or rent a home. Because real estate sales happen quickly, there is often little time to deal with radon and other issues. The best thing to do is to test for radon NOW and save the results in case the buyer is interested in them. Fix a problem if it exists so it won't complicate your home sale. If you are planning to move, read EPA's pamphlet "Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon," which addresses some common questions (see also Radon in Real Estate). You can also use the results of two short-term tests done side-by-side (four inches apart) to decide whether to fix your home.
A: Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As they break down further, these particles release small bursts of energy. This can damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer. And the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.
Like other environmental pollutants, there is some uncertainty about the magnitude of radon health risks. However, we know more about radon risks than risks from most other cancer-causing substances. This is because estimates of radon risks are based on studies of cancer in humans (underground miners).