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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Protect Your Health from Radon

January is National Radon Action Month. Testing for radon is important for long-term health, especially in areas where shale gas extraction occurs. Read on for information about radon, its health consequences, and steps you can take to protect your home and health.

What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium in rocks and soil. It is odorless and colorless. Radon is present outdoors in small amounts. The gas enters homes and buildings through foundation cracks and holes where it collects and reaches levels that can be harmful to human health.

How does radon impact your health?

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Due to radon’s quick rate of decay, tiny radioactive particles can be inhaled causing damage to the lining of the lungs.

Are radon levels higher in homes near shale gas extraction activities?

A study based on radon data from 2007 to 2014 in Ohio, found that there is a strong correlation between indoor radon concentrations and shale gas extraction. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found levels of radon in Pennsylvania homes have increased since 2004, around the time that the shale gas boom began. “By drilling 7,000 holes in the ground, the fracking industry may have changed the geology and created new pathways for radon to rise to the surface,” Joan A. Casey, the study’s first author, says. “Now there are a lot of potential ways that fracking may be distributing and spreading radon.” The Johns Hopkins researchers also found “significantly higher readings of radon” in buildings located near to where shale gas activity was heaviest compared to buildings located in low-activity areas.

What actions can reduce the risk of radon exposure?

Test your home periodically for radon gas even if your home does not have a basement. Radon levels in homes may vary seasonally, so it’s best to check your radon levels twice a year, in different seasons. In southwestern Pennsylvania, Protect Penn-Trafford’s (Protect PT) Radon Air Monitoring Program (RAMP) helps residents in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties check their homes for increased levels of radon. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) offer guidelines for testing.

PADEP recommends all homeowners start with a short-term test and follow up with a long-term (91-365 day) test if levels between 4.0pCi/L (picocuries per liter) and 10.0pCi/L are detected. A variety of continuous radon monitors are available for purchase in addition to kits that must be sent to a laboratory for results. If you have questions about your results or how long to continue radon testing before installing a mitigation system, reach out to a certified mitigation firm. PADEP maintains a list of certified installers in Pennsylvania. Other state radon programs that provide information about testing and mitigation can be found using the EPA Map of Radon Zones.

The EPA recommends homes be fixed if the radon level is 4 pCi/L or more, but you should consider consulting with a mitigation professional even if your reading is below 4 pCi/L since there is no known safe level of exposure to radon. If radon levels in your home require a radon reduction system or if you are concerned about your home’s test results, contact a certified installer. Often, the installer will be able to quote a cost for the system over the phone after asking a series of questions about the structure. Installation of the system takes less than a day. Be sure to check with your installer about future testing requirements to fulfill any guarantees or warranties.

“Radon is a concern in all types of homes, new and old,” says Gillian Graber, executive director of Protect PT. “Residents need to test for radon, especially in areas where shale gas drilling occurs.” Being aware of the risks posed by radon is key to keeping your family safe. Take the first step this month and test your home for radon.


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