Radon is a naturally occurring, odorless, colorless, tasteless, radioactive gas produced from the radioactive decay of radium, found in most soils and earthen construction materials.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after smoking, and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon is responsible for more than 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year (about one person every 25 minutes).
Data collected by the department indicates that 1 in 5 Florida residences has elevated radon levels.
This is a real reason to schedule the radon inspection of your home in any county in Florida.
Where does radon come from?
Radon is constantly being generated by the radium in rocks, soil, water and materials derived from rocks and soils.
The radon generated in rocks or water usually stays trapped in that material unless the rocks are fractured or the water is mixed with the air. Radon-222 is the decay product of radium-226.
Radon-222 and its parent, radium-226, are part of the long decay chain for uranium-238. Since uranium is essentially everywhere in the earth’s crust, radium-226 and radon-222 are present in almost all rock and all soil types.
The amount of radon soil can produce depends on local geology and can vary from house to house. Radon levels in the soil range from a few hundred to several thousand pCi/L (picoCuries per Liter).
The amount of radon that escapes from the soil to enter the house depends on the suction created within the house, soil porosity, soil moisture, and the weather.
What is the average level of Radon found in homes in the U.S.?
Based on a national residential radon survey completed in 1991, the average indoor radon level in the United States is about 1.3 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L). The average outdoor level is about 0.4 pCi/L.
What is the extent of radon problems in Florida?
The department collects radon test reports from state-certified radon testing companies. About 1 in 5 radon tests made in Florida are found to be elevated.
Locally the number of homes reporting elevated radon varies from a high of 7 out of 10 to a low of 1 out of 100. Elevated radon levels have been reported from all regions of the state.
Ultimately the only way to tell if your home has a radon problem is to schedule the radon inspection in Florida.
What does pCi/L mean?
PicoCuries per liter (pCi/L) is a unit for measuring radioactive concentrations. The curie (Ci) unit is the activity of 1 gram of pure radium-226.
Pico is a scientific notation denoting a factor of 10-12. One pCi is one-trillionth of a Curie, 0.037 disintegrations per second, or 2.22 disintegrations per minute.
Therefore, at 4 pCi/L (picoCuries per liter, the EPA’s recommended action level), there will be approximately 12,672 radioactive disintegration events in one liter of air during a 24-hour period.
Why is 4 pCi/L the recommended action level for Radon?
EPA recommended this action level in 1986 for several reasons.
First, at lower levels (2 pCi/L) measurement devices’ false negative errors increased threefold, and false-positive errors increased twofold.
Secondly, mitigation research indicates that elevated levels can be reduced to less than 4 pCi/L 95% of the time. Research shows that 2 pCi/L can be achieved by 70% of the time. Further, today’s mitigation technology can reduce radon levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L most of the time.
Finally, the cost-benefit analysis performed in 1986 indicate that an action level of 4 pCi/L results in a cost of about $700,000 per lung cancer death saved.
If the action level was set at 3 pCi/L, the cost would be $1.7 million, and if set at 2 pCi/L, the cost would be $2.4 million per lung cancer death saved. EPA states that 4 pCi/L is a recommended action level, yet homeowners can further reduce their potential lung cancer risk by mitigating homes that are below 4 pCi/L.
Does Radon break down and disappear from a building?
Radon does decay (break-down); however, the ability for any given patch of land to produce a radon problem in a building placed on it is effectively constant during your lifetime.
Radon 222 is a radioactive element in the Uranium 238 decay chain. The ‘parent’ element to radon is Radium 236. While radon has a half-life of 3.8 days and thus decays out rather quickly, Radium 226 has a half-life of 1620 years.
Any radon in the ground is continually being replenished by the decay of the radium in the soil.
With a half-life of 1620 years, the amount of radium and the rate of radon production during an individual’s life, or the design life expectancy of your average building, is effectively constant.
Radon is constantly generated and available to enter and accumulate in buildings at high concentrations.
What are the symptoms and health risks associated with radon exposure?
There are no immediate symptoms associated with radon. However, chronic exposure to elevated radon levels has been demonstrated to cause an increased incidence of lung cancer in humans.
The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, estimated to cause about 21,000 deaths each year.
Radon is also the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Major scientific organizations continue to estimate that approximately 12% of lung cancers annually in the United States are attributable to radon.
When radon and its decay products are inhaled into your lungs, they emit particles full of energy called alpha particles. These alpha particles can strike the sensitive lining of the lungs (bronchi).
When this happens, the cells and their DNA in your lungs are damaged, increasing your risk of developing lung cancer. Most of the alpha particle radiation comes from radon decay products.
Lung cancer is the only health effect that has been definitively linked with radon exposure. Lung cancer usually occurs after prolonged exposure (10-25 years).
Smokers are at higher risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer, so prevention is the best defense. People should not smoke and also reduce the amount of radon they breathe.
Is there any evidence on the health effects associated with radon?
The World Health Organization (WHO), the National Academy of Sciences, the US Department of Health and Human Services, as well as EPA, have classified radon as a known human carcinogen, because of the wealth of biological and epidemiological evidence and data showing the connection between exposure to radon and lung cancer in humans.
The science on radon has been formidable over the years, but never before have we had such overwhelming scientific consensus that exposure to elevated levels of radon causes lung cancer in humans.
Do I still need to test my home if I don’t live in an area designated as a high radon zone?
Yes. The only way to know for sure if you have a radon problem, and to protect your family from radon, is to test your home. Various federal and state agencies have conducted radon surveys through the United States.
In addition, the EPA has broken the state down into three zones according to their potential for high indoor radon levels, with Zone 1 having the highest radon potential.
Homes in Zones 1 and 2 have a statistically higher chance of having elevated levels of radon. However, elevated levels of radon have been found in homes in many counties designated as low radon potentials (zone 3).
Do I need to test if my neighbors have tested their homes for radon and they don’t have high levels?
Yes. Radon levels so as results of the radon inspection can vary greatly from house to house, even on the same street in any part of Florida.
It is nearly impossible to predict the exact nature of geologic soil deposits and the extent to which soil gasses can seep into and be retained by a specific house.
The following links have been compiled to allow more access to a wider range of Radon information. These links are being provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only.
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