Top 10 Myths and Facts About Radon

Airthings
June 13, 2016

This article researches top 10 myths and facts about radon, from examining the claims of scientists who say radon is not dangerous to the question of whether short-term tests are enough to take action against radon.

Myth 1: Radon isn’t dangerous

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Fact: To understand this first out of many radon myths, it’s important to first review some background. Namely, who is saying radon isn’t a problem? Many people in the lay community and even in the scientific community have claimed that radon is not an issue to worry about. For instance, a 1995 study from an American scientist named Dr. Bernard Cohen challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) findings about radon, claiming that the EPA’s results had a fundamental flaw based on a misunderstanding of radon dosage. He basically says that just because very high levels of radon can lead to cancer, it is erroneous to think that means low levels of radon pose a risk.

It’s hard to know who to listen to. The scientists making claims against the EPA could be whistleblowers alerting the community to a lapse in scientific judgment, so it is worth considering what they have to say.  The World Health Organization helped us do just that by analyzing the 1995 study conducted by Dr. Bernard Cohen and publishing a neutral report. They found fundamental issues with the way he formulated his study: “Cohen’s geographical correlation study has intrinsic methodological difficulties (Stidley & Samet, 1993, 1994)” (WHO).

What is more, in addition to the EPA, the Center for Disease Control, American Lung Association, and American Medical Association all agree that radon has a harmful effect on human health. Given the number of US and international institutions claiming radon is dangerous, and the fact that Dr. Cohen’s methods were questions by the WHO, it is reasonable to conclude that radon is indeed dangerous.

Myth 2: Radon tests are expensive and take a long time

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Fact: It is one of the common radon myths. A simple preliminary radon test is not at all expensive. You can buy short-term radon test kits for as little as $15 (National Radon Program Services). The cheaper short-term tests are going to be less accurate than others, but they will at least give you a rough idea of radon levels in your home. And they tend to take around 2–7 days, which means they are not time consuming. What’s more, once the radon test is underway you need only to wait. In this sense, they’re not overly complex to conduct.

Myth 3: You can’t solve radon problems in all homes

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Fact: First of all it should be noted that only 6% of homes have radon levels that need to be resolved through a form of mitigation (National Radon Program Services). Secondly, homes can be fixed through a number of different means, from a homeowner caulking foundation faults in their basement to the installation of a radon mitigation system in your home. The National Radon Program Services note that “virtually any home can be fixed,” citing the above methods as the most common solutions.

Myth 4: Only some types of home need to worry about radon

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Fact: Radon is not attracted to ranches more than victorian style homes. This might seem facetious, but it is essentially the argument people make when they say specific home types need to worry about radon and others don’t. The fact of the matter is radon comes up from the ground, and it depends on variable factors like “soil and atmospheric conditions” (University of Minnesota), among other factors such as construction materials and structural soundness. In short, no home is more or less susceptible because of its “type.”

Myth 5: You only need to worry about radon if you live in certain areas of the country

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Fact: Some blogs claim that if you live in certain parts of the country you should be more concerned with radon than if you live in other parts of the country. While it’s true that there are regions with more and less radon, the idea that you don’t need to worry about radon just because you live in a region that tends to have low radon levels is unfounded. Radon levels are very local, and depend on soil composition, atmospheric conditions, home construction, etc. (University of Minnesota). Thus, it would be foolish not to be concerned about radon for the sole reason that the region in which you live tends to have low radon levels.

Myth 6: Radon tests from a neighbor’s house are accurate indications of radon in your own home

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Fact: A common one in all the radon myths. Unfortunately, it’s not true. A study from the National Institute of Health showed that soil composition and ground permeability are key factors affecting radon in your home, and they are factors that are specific to your plot of land (NIH). And while the argument could be made that your neighbor’s house is built in the same soil and close enough to your own house to know that the ground permeability is relatively constant, differences in home construction between your home and theirs could alone account for different readings of radon. A resource called Radon Awareness cites cracks in a foundation as enough to allow significant levels of radon into your home. This fact renders the neighbor test idea moot.

Myth 7: All homeowners should conduct water radon tests

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Fact: Radon testing is important, but water radon tests should be conducted after air radon tests. For one, many homes receive their water from a public water infrastructure, which should test and report radon levels. If you get your water from a personal well, a water radon test might be advisable, but a test of radon in the air would be an easier first test to conduct. This air test would tell you if radon is present, and airborne radon tends to be more dangerous than waterborne radon (New Hampshire Department of Environment Services).

Myth 8: Selling a home that has a history of radon is difficult

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Fact: Unaddressed radon problems are obviously not attractive to homebuyers. But if measures have been taken to fix radon levels, and they have been shown to work, this can actually increase home value. Many real estate agents claim a resolved radon issue through a permanent structural fix or a radon mitigation system have a neutral effect or else a positive effect on your ability to sell a home. Radon myths like these are unfortunate as they can lead to inaction. 

Myth 9: Having lived in my house for many years it wouldn’t matter if I took action against radon now

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Fact: This is probably the least fortunate of all the radon myths. As the National Cancer Institute notes, “Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer.” It is long term exposure that matters, so it’s never really too late to check your home for radon. At the very least, you might find out you do have high radon levels, allowing you to take action to protect your home.

Myth 10: Short-term tests aren’t enough to make a decision about taking action to fix radon in your home

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Fact: This last of of many myths is still a common one. The fact is that short-term tests can be enough, provided you use more than one. Radon.com notes that two radon tests could be enough to take action provided that at least one of the tests is above the recommended 4.0 pCi/L. This would indicate that levels at least some of the time are above recommended level, and therefore that you might want to take action. Note that if you conduct two radon tests and neither is above 4.0 pCi/L that does not mean you are safe from radon. To conclusively know if you are safe from radon you must consistently monitor radon levels. That said, short term tests can lead to radon mitigation action if they conclusively show radon levels are too high. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Now you should know all the top 10 myths and facts about radon.

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