Health Specialist (Formerly Sanitarian)
Information and Services provided by Environmental Health
What is radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown (radioactive decay) of radium, which is itself a decay product of uranium. Uranium and radium are both common elements in the soil.
Where is radon found?
The major source of high levels of radon in homes is soil surrounding the house. The radon gas from the soil can enter a home or building through dirt floors, hollow-block walls, cracks in the foundation floor and walls, and openings around floor drains, pipes and sump pumps.
- Radon is often more highly concentrated in basements, ground floors and the first floor of homes.
- Radon problems have been identified in every state, and nationwide tests are being conducted to identify the extent and magnitude of the problem. EPA estimates that as many as one in 15 homes in the U.S. have elevated radon levels.
- Any home may have a radon problem.
- Homes without basements can have a radon problem. Iowa is in Zone 1 of the EPA’s radon Zones. This means that homes in Iowa have the highest potential for increased Radon levels.
What are the health effects of radon?
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, resulting in thousands of deaths each year in the United States. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.
As radon decays and is inhaled into the lungs, its byproducts release energy that can damage sensitive lung tissue and lead to lung cancer.
For non-smokers, exposure to elevated radon levels can increase the risk of lung cancer as much as smoking can. For smokers, exposure to radon is an especially serious health risk.
How is radon measured?
Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). No level of radon is considered absolutely safe. However, the average indoor level is 1.3 pCi/L. The American Lung Association (ALA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend that action be taken when indoor levels are above 4 picocuries per liter.
What should the home owner do?
- Test your home for radon.
Do-it-yourself test kits are available at Hancock County Public Health for $6.00.
Fix your home if radon levels are over 4 pCi/L. Professional contractors must be certified by the Iowa Department of Public Health. Knowledgeable home owners may take corrective action to reduce radon levels in their own homes (EPA pamphlets are available). Radon problems can be fixed by straight forward construction techniques.
For more information click on the links below:
Citizens Guide to Radon (.pdf)
Iowa Department of Public Health Radon Program: http://www.idph.state.ia.us/Radon/
Environmental Protection Agency Radon page: http://www.epa.gov/radon/
Building a new house using Radon resistant technology: http://www.epa.gov/radon/rrnc/index.html