Friday, May 15, 2009

Radon Levels in Your Home

Do you have a basement? Do you know what Radon Zone you live in?
Zone 1 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than 4 pCi/L (pico curies per liter) (red zones) Highest Potential
Zone 2 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L (orange zones) Moderate Potential
Zone 3 counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L (yellow zones) Low Potential

Unless you're a homeowner, you may not be thinking about Radon. However, I've recently done some research on this topic for personal reasons (I'll let you guess), and here are some interesting findings:
  • Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.
  • According to the EPA, "Radon levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, and in many cases may be reduced." (see the chart below)
  • The EPA recommends building new homes with radon-resistant features in high radon potential (Zone 1) areas.
  • Even at levels of 2, there is an increased risk of cancer and the EPA suggests that you should "Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L" (see the chart below)
For a Radon Zone map, click here

The chart below is from this EPA Radon site:

Radon Risk If You Smoke

Radon Level If 1,000 people who smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*... The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**... WHAT TO DO:
Stop smoking and...
20 pCi/L About 260 people could get lung cancer 250 times the risk of drowning Fix your home
10 pCi/L About 150 people could get lung cancer 200 times the risk of dying in a home fire Fix your home
8 pCi/L About 120 people could get lung cancer 30 times the risk of dying in a fall Fix your home
4 pCi/L About 62 people could get lung cancer 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash Fix your home
2 pCi/L About 32 people could get lung cancer 6 times the risk of dying from poison Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 20 people could get lung cancer (Average indoor radon level) (Reducing radon
levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult.)
0.4 pCi/L About 3 people could get lung cancer (Average outdoor radon level)
Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be lower.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.


Radon Risk If You've Never Smoked

Radon Level If 1,000 people who never smoked were exposed to this level over a lifetime*... The risk of cancer from radon exposure compares to**... WHAT TO DO:
20 pCi/L About 36 people could get lung cancer 35 times the risk of drowning Fix your home
10 pCi/L About 18 people could get lung cancer 20 times the risk of dying in a home fire Fix your home
8 pCi/L About 15 people could get lung cancer 4 times the risk of dying in a fall Fix your home
4 pCi/L About 7 people could get lung cancer The risk of dying in a car crash Fix your home
2 pCi/L About 4 person could get lung cancer The risk of dying from poison Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 2 people could get lung cancer (Average indoor radon level) (Reducing radon levels below
2 pCi/L is difficult.)
0.4 pCi/L
(Average outdoor radon level)
Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be higher.
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.

So what's the bottom line? Radon causes cancer and you should do what you can to avoid exposure to it. Should the EPA lower the limit from 4 to something less? That depends on whether that would be a "cost-effective" public health decision for the government. How much are you willing to pay to mitigate your risk?

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