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Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas. Radon is created when naturally occurring elements such as uranium and radium in rocks and soil break down during a process called radioactive decay. Once radon is emitted, it migrates upwards to the ground surface through pore spaces in the soil. Radon can enter homes through cracks, joints, cavities and gaps in building floors and walls. Radon gas can also dissolve in well water and become released into indoor air from running water, but groundwater is not thought to be a major contributing source of indoor radon.

In outdoor air, radon is diluted with other atmospheric gases and is present at very low concentrations. However, inside buildings and enclosed spaces radon can accumulate to higher concentrations. The concentration of radon gas is measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L). A curie is an international unit of measurement of radioactivity, and a picocurie is one-trillionth of a curie.

Radon, Lung Cancer, and Smoking

Radon can damage lung tissue and can increase the risk of developing lung cancer over the long-term. In fact, radon is the second greatest cause of lung cancer in the U.S. The EPA estimates that over 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are related to radon.

If you are a smoker, the potential health consequences of long-term exposure to radon are even greater. Smoking and radon exposure work together to increase the risk of developing lung cancer up to 10 times greater than the risk to people who have never smoked. Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recommends that radon mitigation systems be installed in homes that have radon levels of 4 pCi/L or higher. Mitigation technologies today can reduce indoor radon levels to 2 pCi/L or lower.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH)’s Bureau of Environmental Health (BEH) has a Radon Assessment Unit (RAU), within the Indoor Air Quality Program, that advises and assists residents of the Commonwealth with their radon questions. The RAU also assists realtors, business owners, and facility managers with their questions regarding radon in air or water. You can contact the RAU to learn more about radon or to get information about certified radon mitigation and measurement specialists. The RAU also provides radon testing services to schools upon request. The program can be reached at 1-800-RADON-95 (1-800-723-6695 – in Massachusetts only) as well as at (413) 586-7525 x 3185.

 

Editor’s Note: This post was adapted from materials provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Written By:


in the Bureau of Environmental Health

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