Radon

What is Radon?
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas that is released from the decay of radium-226, which occurs naturally in almost all soil, rock, and water.  It is harmless when dispersed in outdoor air, however, when it is trapped in buildings, it can become harmful.  There is no way to tell if your home has high levels of radon other than to test for it. 

Where Does Radon Come From?
The most common source of radon in homes comes from the surrounding soils.  Radon enters the house through the laws of thermodynamics, warm air rises.  When this happens in your home, it creates a vacuum in the lower areas of the house.  Nature hates a vacuum, so something must rush in to fill it.  In the case of your home, air seeps in from the soil around and under the house, and sometimes air is sucked in through opening (cracks, doors, windows) on the lower levels.  Radon gas enters the same way air and other soil gases enter the home; through cracks in the foundation floor or walls, hollow-block walls, openings around floor drains, pipes, and sump pumps, and other such openings on the lower levels. 

What are the Health Effects of Radon?
Radon causes approximately 14,000 lung cancer deaths each year, making it the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today.  Radon can be inhaled into the lungs, where it undergoes radioactive decay.  As it decays, radon releases tiny bits of energy called alpha particles, which can harm sensitive lung tissues sometimes damaging the DNA.  This damaged DNA can then lead to lung cancer. 

Is there Radon in South Central Alaska?
Yes, there are elevated levels of radon in some pocket areas of south central Alaska, including Homer, Kenai, Soldotna, Anchorage, and their surrounding areas. Most homes are built on thick layers of clay and other fine organic soils that protect against radon migration up into our homes. However, homes built on  gravel and sandy soils are more likely to have elevated radon levels.  Radon gas can migrate easier through porous gravel material, and with more difficulty through clay and fine organic soils.  There is no hard rule for determining whether radon may or may not be a problem in your home, so if you are concerned about radon, you should have your home tested regardless of what types of soil your home was built on.

How Do I Know if Radon Levels Are High In My Home?
There are no physical signs of radon gas in a home, or acute health effects to suggest that radon is affecting a home's occupants.  The only way to determine if there are elevated radon levels in your home is to test for it.  Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), which is used as a measurement of radioactivity.  The U.S. EPA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that homes with radon levels of 4 pCi/L, or greater, take action to mitigate the effects of radon in the indoor air. 

What if I Have Elevated Levels of Radon in My Home?
There exist a variety of methods that can be used to reduce radon in homes.  Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction.  However, this alone will not reduce radon levels, in most cases, systems with pipes and fans are used to reduce radon effectively.  These pipe and fan systems are called "sub-slab depressurization".  These systems prevent radon gas from entering the home from below the concrete floor and the foundation.  Similar systems can also be installed in homes with crawlspaces.