Actual health hazards from radon gas exposure:
This article explains the actual and statistical health risks of exposure to radon gas in air or water, and we describe the proper steps to remove radon and improve indoor air quality in homes. We explain that the health hazard of breathing low levels of radon gas at 4 picocuries per liter of air or less is likely to be so low as to not be measurable - or indistinguishable from random chance.
We point out how radon gas levels vary in buildings, and we include an important warning for smokers, for whom radon gas exposure levels are significantly greater.
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An Unbiased Statement of the Health Risk from Breathing Air with Low Levels of Radon Gas at 4 pCi/L or Less
The original US EPA recommendation of "further testing" for homes that measured at 4 pCi/L during a short term screening test has in our opinion led to the installation of thousands of radon mitigation systems in homes at which the average annual exposure to radon gas may have been considerably below that level.
This benefit avoided the employee having to bear the cost of carrying two primary residences at the same time.
The employee relocation service companies who provided this home management and home resale service to their corporate clients did not want to "take over" responsibility for a home that might give a surprise expense at the time of its ultimate sale to a new owner.
Rather than waiting for the results of a long term radon test to measure the actual annual average radon exposure level, the relocation companies simply required an employee who was planning to place their home into the relocation plan to go ahead and install a radon mitigation system if the initial radon screening test showed a level of 4 pCi/L or above.
While it's not quite clear from the radon risk level table above, notice that little footnote: "based on a person's average exposure over a lifetime". A thoughtful reading of the EPA's radon risk data showed that the risk of contracting lung cancer from exposure to radon gas at a level of 4 pCi/L could not be measured as any different from random chance in the general population until the duration of the exposure time exceeded 18 hours per day for 70 years.
In other words, for most people, the risk of contracting lung cancer from living in a home at 4 pCi/L is virtually nil.
Smokers are at a much higher cancer risk from radon than non-smokers (about 80 times more risk for the same exposure level as a non-smoker), and the level of risk of cancer from radon exposure increases significantly at higher radon levels.
Do Home buyers fear radon? Initially some consumers who were considering buying a home where a radon mitigation system was seen installed were frightened, thinking that the home was dangerous, regardless of the effectiveness of the radon mitigation system and regardless of the original, possibly low initial radon level that led to the installation of that system.
At a home inspection in 1996 radon was tested and later found to be present at a level of less than 1 pCi/L.
The home buyer told the inspector that he intended to demand that radon level in his home be brought to zero, regardless of current best advice on the actual risk level.
Expert opinion was that mitigation of a home for radon at this level was not appropriate, wasted money, and risked stigmatizing the house.
Our graph (left) plots the level of consumer fear of environmental hazards over time. As we depict in this normal curve of environmental anxiety, for virtually all hazards, regardless of the level of actual health risk, consumer worry increases as media attention focuses on a given concern, then decreases over time as people become accustomed to the topic.
Currently the home buying public has become accustomed to radon mitigation systems and the remaining level of consumer worry is small in our opinion. However public fear about environmental hazards, once roused, never falls again to zero, regardless of the actual level of risk.
See Radon RADON ENVIRO-SCARE for a full discussion of the normal cycle of public fear that accompanies the discovery and publicity of various environmental hazards, including radon gas.
Continue reading at RADON MEASUREMENT GUIDE or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.
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