January is National Radon Action Month. Radon gas, the second leading cause of lung cancer, occurs naturally in the ground. Over 40 percent of homes in Pennsylvania have radon levels higher than the federal guideline of 4 picocuries per liter, making it important for all of us to test our homes for this invisible harmful gas.
One question we often hear is, "If my neighbors’ homes all tested low for radon gas, why should I test mine?"
In fact, radon levels can vary greatly from house to house—even on the same street. A number of factors determine how much radon is entering your home from the ground.
Construction: First, how your home was originally constructed plays a large role in how much radon gas gets in. Gaps or cracks in areas of access to plumbing and electric affect radon level. Cracks in the concrete and construction joints also create openings for radon to enter.
Geology: There can be slight differences in the rocks and soils below one home that are not below a neighbor's home, and this can cause differences in indoor radon levels.
Changes on the property: New construction or structural renovations can also affect radon levels, by reducing ventilation. In addition, disturbed and re-settled soil can alter radon levels.
No basement? No difference. People often think that if they don’t have a basement, they don’t need to test. On the contrary, homes on slabs should be tested, because the lowest story of a home frequently has the highest level of radon. If you and your family are consistently exposed to elevated radon levels on the ground floor, this increases the potential of getting lung cancer.
Longtime residence may mean longtime exposure. Another common misconception is that if you’ve lived in your home for many years and don’t have any health problems, you shouldn’t worry. However, the longer you’re exposed to radon, the higher your chances of getting lung cancer. You’ll reduce your risk of lung cancer when you reduce radon levels, even if you’ve lived with an elevated radon level for a long time.
For more information, visit dep.pa.gov/radon.