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Radon: The Silent Invisible Killer

radon testing


Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive noble gas that is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. Radon can infiltrate your home through cracks in your foundation or drinking water, and exposure to radon increases your risk of lung cancer as well as other diseases. If you suspect that you have radon in your home or business, call Aegis Environmental to help you with radon testing and mitigation.

What is Radon?

In the environment, Radon is found most commonly in the gas phase. It is released from the earth as soils and rocks break down over time. As soils and rocks break down, other naturally occurring radioactive elements within undergo radioactive decay. Radon gas is produced from radioactive decay and then migrates through the soil to the surface.
As radon gas migrates to the surface and enters the atmosphere, it quickly dissipates to levels that are not of concern to human health.

The problem occurs when Radon gas migrates into homes or other enclosed spaces. Radon can also pose a threat to human health via drinking water. High levels of dissolved radon can be found in groundwater that flows through granitic sand and gravel formations. Private-well owners in these areas should have their water tested. Dissolved radon can release as a gas through aeration while washing dishes.

Why is Radon Dangerous?

According to the U.S. EPA, Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer behind cigarettes. It is responsible for approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year. EPA guidance advises mitigating radon levels if they are at or above 148 Bq/m3 (4pCi/L). Smokers exposed to radon are nine times more likely to develop lung cancer.

In comparison, Radon-related cancer mortalities surpass that of the liver, esophagus, ovary, kidney, and even stomach cancer.

As Radon enters the body, it travels to the lungs, becoming lodged in its lining. It slowly gives off radiation and over time can damage the cells causing lung cancer. Signs of lung cancer include a persistent cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing. More severe symptoms include coughing up blood and chest pain.

Radon does not cause any notable damage in the short term. Unfortunately, there are no medical tests available that can test for radon exposure. Similarly, there are no known treatments for radon exposure. Its ambiguity makes it difficult to detect and just as difficult to study.

In drinking water, radon poses a risk of internal organ cancers like stomach cancer. According to the EPA’s National Academy of Science Report, Radon in drinking water causes about 168 cancer-related deaths per year: 89% from lung cancer in the air and 11% from stomach cancer caused by consuming radon-contaminated water.

Where is Radon Found?

Radon occurs naturally, although it is most commonly introduced to the environment through human-related activities. Mining for coal and phosphates releases radon into the atmosphere and groundwater. Coal combustion is also responsible for releasing radon into the atmosphere.

The toxic gas is capable of vaporizing through the surface to enter the air. Once airborne, Radon attaches itself to dust and other particles. Similarly, Radon can migrate further deeper into the ground into aquifers. A majority of the earth’s Radon is caught within the soil.

As Radon vaporizes and migrates upwards through the soil, it can find its way into your home through cracks and holes in your foundation, amongst other crevices. A home’s basement is the most common entryway for Radon. Aside from issues with the foundation, Radon enters basements through sump wells and drains.

Conditions within your basement can also prove favorable to the buildup of Radon. The pressure inside your basement may vary from the pressure of the rest of your home. This can lead to a ‘stack effect where the air is drawn from the ground into your basement and concentrates as it tries to equilibrate the pressure.

Testing for Radon

There are several ways to test your home for elevated levels of Radon. You can purchase a DIY kit, hire a qualified tester, or contact a private Radon proficiency program. DIY kits are the more affordable option, while the other methods are more accurate.

At-home test kits can be purchased by brick-and-mortar stores such as Home Depot or online retailers such as Amazon. They range from $15 up to $50 in price. Setting up your test is as simple as opening the box and following the directions. Short-term test kits may be kept out for testing purposes as long as 90 days. Long-term tests must stay out much longer.

To hire a qualified tester, contact your state radon office to find a tester in your area. Similarly, you can contact a private Radon proficiency program to provide you a list of privately certified Radon testers in your area. Professional testing can range from $150-$300, depending on your area.

If your test results are lower than two pCi/L, then you are in the clear, and no action is needed. It’s recommended that you retest periodically. Between two pCi/L and four pCi/L, you should consider mitigation efforts. It would help if you also retested within a couple of months. If your results are higher than four pCi/L, then contact a licensed professional to mitigate.

To test your drinking water, you can contact the Safe Drinking Water Hotline for information on testing drinking water and for a list of certified testers in your area. The U.S. EPA requires water suppliers to provide water with radon levels less than 4,000 pCi/L.

What to do if Radon Levels are too High?

If your Radon levels exceed two p/Ci/L but are below four pCi/L, then you should mitigate to be safe. It’s important to periodically retest (every few months) to ensure that the levels do not exceed four pCi/L. If you implement mitigation efforts, you should retest after a few months to ensure that your efforts are working.

If your Radon levels exceed four pCi/L, then you should immediately test again to confirm your results. In the meantime, you should contact a licensed professional to install a Radon-reduction system. Ignoring the results above four pCi/L could lead to an increased risk of lung cancer.

Mitigation efforts include increasing ventilation in your home. This is the most common and effective method to mitigate airborne Radon. A vent pipe and a fan circulate air in your home to increase airflow. Soil suction prevents Radon from entering your home at the source but extracting Radon from the soil before entering your home.

Sealing cracks or other openings in your foundation is another effective way to reduce radon levels in your home. Mitigation efforts applied to your home’s foundation will vary depending on if you have a slab-on-grade foundation, a traditional basement, or a crawlspace.

You can either aerate your water in your drinking water before washing dishes or consuming it by spraying it into the air. This method removes radon from your water but introduces it to your air. A more effective method is to install a GAC treatment system that uses activated carbon to filter the water before use.

Wrapping Up

Treat radon exposure seriously as it is the second most common cause of lung cancer behind smoking. It’s a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can migrate into your home through its cracks and crevices. Be proactive by periodically testing for Radon in your air and drinking water. If Radon is detected at elevated levels, call Aegis Environmental to help you with your radon assessment and mitigation efforts.

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