You can't see or smell radon gas, but it's dangerous. Breathing in high levels of radon can raise your risk of lung cancer. In the United States, radon is the #2 cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and it is estimated to cause over 20,000 deaths each year. In fact, if you live in a home with high radon levels, smoking raises your risk of lung cancer by 10 times.
According to the Alaska Division of Public Health, radon is an under-recognized health risk in the state. Many homes tested throughout Alaska have radon levels above the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) limit of 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Testing your home is the only way to find out if you have a radon problem. If you do, then you can fix it.
Radon gas is derived from rocks and dirt in the ground, beginning with the radioactive decay of naturally occurring uranium. There is always some radon in the air around us, but a problem occurs when it leaks in through cracks or gaps underneath the house, causing a potential build-up of radon gas inside the home.
Any spot where the house is in contact with the ground should be sealed and airtight. Fill cracks in your slab to keep air from the ground from getting into the house. Photo credit: John Ellison.
Houses can be mitigated for radon by installing perforated pipe and an inline fan to pull the radon out of the ground around the house and vent it outside away from any windows. Photo credit: John Ellison.
One picocurie (abbreviated as pCi) represents 2.2 radioactive disintegrations of radium (radon's radioactive parent) per minute. At a level of 4 pCi/L, the EPA's recommended action level, there will be approximately 12,672 radioactive disintegrations (radon particles) in one liter of air during a 24-hour period.
When you breathe in radon gas, the radioactive particles can get trapped in your lungs and further decay to polonium and other radioactive solids. Over time, they can cause lung cancer. The risks from radon depend on two things:
In the entire U.S., one in 15 homes have high radon levels. Unfortunately, we do not know the statistics for Alaska. DGGS and University of Alaska Fairbanks' Cooperative Extension Service are creating a radon database and public visualization tools to better understand radon potential and identify where elevated levels of radon exist in the state. Alaskans are invited to contribute radon test results to the database, which will aggregate results to help preserve confidentiality. Previously collected and new test results are both helpful.
This project is funded through a grant from the EPA's Environmental Information Exchange Network.
Radon test kits are available in hardware stores and other retail outlets, and for purchase online. Radon service providers will also conduct testing for you. Please fill out a data release form and questionnaire for each test result, so that your information can help other Alaskans.