the scoop on radon

What is radon?
Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas formed from the natural breakdown of uranium. The gas is found naturally in certain soils around Oregon and the United States.

Radon enters buildings through cracks in concrete floors and walls, and especially builds up in basements.

Decaying radon produces radioactive particles that can enter the lungs and cause damage, including cancer, over time. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calls radon the second-leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.


Map by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Map by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


The risk is greater in smokers and people with higher long-term exposures.

Do I have a radon problem?
Radon occurs everywhere, but some areas have soil types with higher levels. Do you live in a potentially high-radon area? The EPA has a national map of radon zones. Oregon’s Department of Health Services lists statistical radon levels by available as an interactive map and listed by zip code. These numbers don’t answer the question about your home, but can give you an idea of what’s going on around you.

Okay, but how do I know about radon in my house?
Home tests are easy and inexpensive. The National Safety Council connects you to subsidized options and state resources. In Oregon, check your eligibility for free kits through the Oregon Health Authority. Test kits include detailed instructions.

First-line tests are boxes you place it in the living area of the lowest level of your house (usually the basement), leave it there for two to three days, and then send the kit into a lab for analysis. The more intensive, long-term test — only recommended if the shorter-term test comes up high — is $20 and stays in place for 90 days.

Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. Outdoor air radon levels are usually 0.4 pCi/L, and indoor air in the United States averages about 1.3 pCi/L.

The EPA recommends action if your home test shows an average above 4 pCi/L. If short-term results are 4-10 pCi/L, a long-term test is recommended. If the average is higher, the EPA recommends a second short-term test to verify results. If the second test is still higher than 4 pCi/L, it’s time to find how radon’s entering your home and take steps to keep it out.

Should I be afraid?
Knowledge conquers fear and action conquers despair. So test your home and take action if necessary. Radon’s effects are cumulative, meaning the risks increase the longer and higher the exposure. The sooner you get your home tested and fixed, if necessary, the lower your risks will be.

Everyone in the United States is exposed to some level of radon every day. In fact, radon exposure is the biggest source of radiation exposure in the country, according to the EPA, five times greater than medical x-rays, for example. Radon is not benign, but it can be mitigated.

Okay, so I’m not afraid. What do I do if my house tests high?
Radon enters your home through cracks and joints in your foundation nearest the soil. The gas gets sucked in when, as is usually the case, air pressure inside the house is lower than air pressure outside. All radon mitigation systems involve increasing pressure inside the house so that radon stays out. Some methods involve sucking the radon out through a sump pump or under-slab pump. Others use fans to pull radon up through a pipe and release it outside. Installing these systems varies depending on the type of structure. Online cost estimates range from $800 to $2,500.

So now my house is fine. What about my body?
Naturopathic philosophy holds that the body is wise in its responses to stressors, and that our bodies naturally want to move toward health. Naturopathic therapies promote optimal health by providing specific nutritional support, encouraging elimination of toxins on the organismal and cellular levels, and supporting healthy lung tissue.

Want more information?
Oregon’s Department of Health Services has a radon information page. Their site offers detailed information about the gas and its health risks, lists companies that measure and mitigate it, and links to discounted test kits.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” available in printed or on-line form, explaining what the gas does, how to test for it, what to do about it, and contacts for further information. See also EPA’s “Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.

Want to get geeky? Check out geological information on radon from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The National Safety Council also has a radon information page.

State health departments offer more detailed information about your area.

To talk to a real person about your issues, try these numbers:

  • National Hispanic Indoor Air Quality Hotline: (866) 528-3187
  • National Radon Hotline: (800) 767-7236
  • National Radon Helpline:(800) 557-2366
  • National Radon Fix-It Line: (800) 644-6999


Photo by Kdwk Leung on Unsplash