A Silent Killer: Radon in the Home

Radon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is responsible for over 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in those who smoke. And the number one leading cause in those who don’t.

Radon is a gas that you cannot smell, taste, or see. It can get into the air you breathe and the water you drink, without you even knowing it. That’s what makes it so dangerous—and why the EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend that everyone test their homes for radon gas.

Radon in the air

Radon forms naturally when uranium, radium, and thorium break down in rocks, soil, and groundwater. There’s always going to be some radon in the air around us. But the problem is when it comes through cracks and gaps in the foundation of buildings and homes. Too much of it can build up inside.

Family having a meal

This is more common than you’d think: one out of 15 homes have elevated levels of radon.

Testing your home is the only way you’ll know if there’s a problem. And if there is, you can get it fixed.

Getting a radon test kit is easy. You can buy it online or in most home improvement stores. Simply follow the instructions on the package. It will tell you where to place the device in your home, for how long, and where to return it for testing. The testing facility will then contact you with the results.

Some states offer free or discounted test kits to the public. Contact your state radon program to find out if your state offers kits. They can also tell you how to get a test kit from a radon measurement professional—and how to find a state-qualified mitigation pro to fix a radon problem.

Should you test for radon in your water?

It depends. Radon in your drinking water is a concern if it comes from underground, such as a well that pumps water from an aquifer. Even so, not all water from underground sources contains radon.

A general rule of thumb from the EPA …

If you get water from a public water system

Find out if your water system comes from a surface (river, lake, reservoir) or a groundwater (underground) source.

  • If the water comes from a surface water source, most radon that may be in the water will be released to the air before it makes its way to your tap. So here the issue isn’t what you’re drinking. It’s again the level of radon buildup in the air you breathe in your home.
  • If the water comes from a groundwater source, call your water supplier and ask if they've tested the water for radon.

If you have a private well

The EPA recommends testing your drinking water for radon. Call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800.426.4791. They can tell you how to get in touch with laboratories certified to test your drinking water for radon.


Sources:

“Find a Radon Test Kit or Measurement and Mitigation Professional.” US EPA, 14 Nov. 2019, www.epa.gov/radon/find-radon-test-kit-or-measurement-and-mitigation-professional.

“Radon | NCEH | CDC.” CDC.Gov, www.cdc.gov/radon. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020.

“Basic Information about Radon in Drinking Water | Radon | US EPA.” EPA.Gov, archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/basicinformation-2.html. Accessed 10 Jan. 2020.

EPA. “Basic Radon Facts.” 2016. PDF file.