How Do You Lower Home Radon Levels to Reduce Lung Cancer Risk?

Understanding Radon Mitigation

Radon mitigation refers to methods used to lower the level of radon gas in our homes. If elevated radon levels were detected through radon testing, and repaired, we could, in theory, prevent 20,000 deaths from lung cancer in the United States each year.

I am often asked the question: “Can’t I just open windows to lower the level of radon in my home?” Unfortunately, keeping our families safe from the cancer-causing effects of radon gas is not that simple.

Radon gas is an invisible, odorless gas that is produced by the normal breakdown of uranium in the soil. Radon enters our homes through cracks in the foundation, openings around sump pumps and drains, and through gaps around pipes and wires. Although some regions of the U.S.have higher levels of radon, elevated levels have been found in homes in all 50 states, and it is estimated that 1 out of 15 homes in the United States have elevated radon levels.

When Is Radon Mitigation Recommended?

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends fixing your home if the radon level is above 4 pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter). They also state that individuals should consider repairs if the level falls between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. It is unknown what level of radon gas in our homes is considered safe, but the United States Congress has defined a long-term goal of having radon levels in homes no greater than the average radon level in outdoor air — 0.4 pCi/L. Currently, the average radon level inside homes in the U.S. is 1.3 pCi/L.

Importance of Radon Mitigation in Lung Cancer Prevention

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer and the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

Methods of Radon Mitigation

To reduce radon gas levels in your home, radon mitigation experts often look at ways to prevent radon from entering your home, as well as methods to lower the level of radon already present in your home. Radon mitigation performed by a qualified professional can reduce radon levels to less than 2 pCi/L in the vast majority of homes.

Preventing Radon From Entering Your Home

Sealing cracks in the foundation and openings around drains and pipes can help prevent some radon from entering your home. Since these measures have not been consistently shown to lower radon levels, methods to lower radon already present in your home are also recommended.

Lowering Levels of Radon Present in Your Home

Several methods are used to remove radon from indoor air, and these can vary, depending upon whether your home has a basement, a crawl space or is built on a concrete slab. Most of these techniques involve some form of suction pipe designed to draw radon gas from the ground beneath your home and a fan to vent (release) radon gas to outdoor air.

Radon Mitigation in New Construction

If you are building a new home, ask about radon-resistant construction. To find out what you should be asking your builder, or to find a builder that specializes in radon resistant construction, visit the EPA's website on radon. Choosing radon-resistant construction is much less costly than repairing a radon problem after your home is already built.

Finding a Qualified Professional

It is very important to find a qualified professional to perform radon mitigation. Some states have specific requirements for radon mitigation systems. Your state radon contact can provide you with a list of certified radon mitigation experts in your area.

The EPA has a checklist you can fill out when evaluating and comparing radon mitigation contractors.

Cost of Radon Mitigation

The cost of radon mitigation usually runs between $800 and $2,500, with an average cost of $1,200. The EPA has a list of the average installation and operating costs of common mitigation methods.

Radon-resistant new construction usually costs a builder between $250 and $750.

If you are debating whether the cost of radon mitigation is worthwhile in this economy, it can be helpful to review a few lung cancer statistics. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States, and radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Another comparison may help put this in perspective. It's expected that 27,000 people will die in the United States in 2016 from radon-induced lung cancer. It's expected that 40,000 women will die in the United States in 2016 from breast cancer. Knowing this, it is surprising we do not hear more about radon reduction — especially since radon exposure should, in theory, be entirely preventable.

Put in another light, in addition to the heartache and the cost of treating lung cancer, the costs extend beyond those who are diagnosed with the disease. It has been estimated that caregiver costs (the cost of time required by a loved one caring for someone with lung cancer) is worth over $73,000. You and your family are worth it!

Special Circumstances

In addition to entering your home through the soil, radon may be present in well water, or in items that we introduce into our homes such as granite countertops. If you are concerned about the possibility of radon in your water, check with your state radon contact. General information about radon in drinking water is available through the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

If radon levels are elevated in your water supply, there are two options for treatment:

  • Point-of-Entry Treatment – This method treats water to remove radon before it enters your home.
  • Point-of-Use Treatment – This technique removes radon from drinking water at your tap. Since radon released into the air from water (such as during showering) is of greater concern than radon that is ingested, point-of-entry treatment is the preferred treatment method.
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