How to Understand Your Radon Levels

Radon - What You Need to Know Series

We get it. Most of us don’t know much about Radon.

If you are like most people, you have a vague idea what radon is and know it is possibly dangerous to your health. Even though we have known about the risks posed by radon in homes for 30 years or so, public awareness is still quite low. Oddly, while many of us worry about things like the dye in our foods we give little thought to the radioactive gas we are breathing in our homes.

This is not the PhD in radon but the field guide or the handbook.

Depiction of Atom Emitting Alpha Particle Radiation

What do I need to know?

While you can find much more information on our site if you are interested, this is the “Radon 101” you need to make informed decisions about Radon for your family.

How to Understand Your Radon Levels

So what the heck is a picocurie?

A picocurie is a measure for the intensity of radioactivity contained in a sample of radioactive material. Because radon is a gas the measurement is a picocurie per liter of air. A picocurie (pCi/l) amounts to 2.2 radioactive emissions per liter of air per minute. These emissions are the Alpha Particles discussed in The Health Risks of Radon article.

Radon Gas Radioactive Emissions Visible in Cloud Chamber

This is radon in a cloud chamber. You can see the radioactive emissions (alpha particles). This is exactly what happens in our lungs when we breath in radon.

Just 2.2 radioactive emissions per minute?

At first blush 2.2 emissions per minute does not sound like very much. It actually adds up to a surprisingly high number of radioactive emissions per day.

In a typical bedroom (10×10 with 8 foot ceilings) in one day, at a radon level of 4 pCi/l there are:

  • Β Over 287,000,000 radioactive emissions (alpha) per day directly from the decay of radon, and
  • Over 574,000,000 beta emissions and another 287,000,000 alpha emissions from the radon daughters.

At a marginally high radon level of 4.0 pCi/l there are over a billion radioactive emissions per day in an average sized bedroom from radon and what radon decays into.

What is that equivalent to?

As you might imagine, at that scale, some damage will occur to your DNA when you are living in and breathing that radioactive air. This does not mean you will get lung cancer, but it does mean you have a higher chance.

  • The EPA estimates living with radon levels at 4.0 pCi/l is a similar risk to smoking 8 cigarettes every day.
  • Living with radon levels of 4.0 pC/l exposes you to the equivalent radiation of getting 200 chest x-rays per year.Β 
Radon Gas Alpha Decay Example

Isn’t Radon Everywhere?

Yes radon is everywhere. Here are some statistics to put your radon levels into context:

  • Outside the average radon level is around 0.4-0.5 pCi/l.
  • The average radon level in homes in the US is 1.3 pCi/l.
  • In 23 states the average radon level in homes is above 4.0 pCi/l. (For example in Colorado the average is around 6.5 pCi/l and in Pennsylvania it is 8.6 pCi/l.)
  • The highest radon level every measured in a home in the US was in 2014 in Pennsylvania at over 3700 pCi/l!

Do I need to get my home fixed?

The EPA treats all radiation risks the same – that is there is no safe level and lower is always better (a linear no threshold risk). That said, the EPA has recommendations for when to take action to reduce your radon levels.

It is important to understand how the recommendations were set. The EPA (and WHO etc.) set their recommendations based on the technology available at the time to reduce radon, the practicality of reducing radon below a certain level, the risks posed by radon, and the overall cost to the economy based on their recommendation. As such, even though the Federal Action Level is 4.0 pCi/l that does not mean that radon levels below that level are safe.

The EPA recommends the following:

  • Below 2.0 pCi/l take no action to reduce your radon.
  • Between 2.0 and 4.0 consider taking action to reduce your radon.
  • At 4.0 and above take action to reduce your radon.

For further context, the World Health Organization has set their action level at 2.7 pCi/l.

Radon Levels Recommendations Chart

How do you fix high radon?

That is the real question isn’t it. The next article in this series tells you how to do just that.

Click here to learn about How to Fix High Radon.

*Disclaimer: All content in this report, including: text, images, audio, or other formats were created for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website.

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