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Indoor radon: What you need to know about this deadly poison

Radon is invisible, tasteless and odorless and can cause major health problems. Here's how to test for it at home.
/ Source: TODAY

You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but radon gas could be in your home causing serious health problems for you and your family.

Believe it or not, the EPA has ranked indoor radon as among the most serious environmental health issues today. With stakes that high, it’s time to learn more. Erlend Bolle, CTO of Airthings, manufacturer of quality radon detectors, shares the following facts.

Radon: What you need to know

What is radon?

  • Radon is a radioactive gas that forms as a result of the breakdown of the uranium in the earth’s crust.
  • Radon gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless and it can enter buildings through cracks in floors or walls, construction joints, or gaps in foundations around pipes, wires or pumps. Radon levels at or above 4 pCi/L need to be reduced.
  • The EPA ranks indoor radon among the most serious environmental health problems facing us today. Radon is present in all 50 states.

What are the health risks of exposure to radon?

  • Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer and is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year.
  • The American Cancer Society has linked radon exposure to blood cancer in women.

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How is radon detected?

  • For long-term safety, the best way to detect radon in homes and buildings is by using an approved radon detector that continuously monitors for radon.
  • Continuous monitoring is crucial because radon levels vary significantly over time due to many factors including: weather, performance of ventilation system, small earthquakes, and nearby construction groundwork.
  • For initial measurements in the home, the EPA recommends short-term tests positioned in the lowest lived-in level. Short-term tests take 2-3 days and require that doors and windows be closed as much as possible during that time. They also cannot be done during unusually severe storms or high winds.
  • Because radon levels may fluctuate, additional long-testing is often recommended to get an average radon level. Long-term tests remain in your home for more than 90 days and yield a reading that better represents the yearly average radon level in the home.

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Radon monitors/detectors

  • Radon detecting devices cost between $12 for a simple First Alert radon detector to $200 for a Corentium Home 223 radon detector/monitor. They are available are available online at and at home improvement and hardware stores.

How is radon eliminated from a building?

  • Radon mitigation contractors have radon reduction systems that can reduce radon levels in the home by up to 99 percent by removing radon gas, sealing leaks and installing ventilation fans.
  • Natural ventilation from opening windows, doors and vents on the lower floors can help initially reduce radon levels, but it is not enough. Once those windows, doors and vents are closed, radon concentrations most often return to the previous levels within hours.

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About radon mitigation

Angie’s List spokesperson Cheryl Reed offers the following information on radon mitigation.

  • Hire a professional who’s certified by the state or the National Radon Proficiency Program.
  • Sealing cracks in foundation or basement walls may help, but it’s not the whole process.
  • The fan is a key component of the system, and it’s going to run all the time, so you want to know the fan’s life expectancy and warranty.
  • Because the fan will be running constantly, you may see a slight increase in your utility bill as well.
  • Expect to pay from $800 to $1,500 for mitigation, depending on the size of your home. A 1,500 sq. ft. home runs about $1,000.
  • Placing the system inside your home rather than outside in the open will also add to the expense.
  • Have an agreement in writing that states what the contractor will do if the system doesn’t bring the radon to a safe level (below 4). If there’s an additional expense, you want to know that up front.