Radon is one of the natural elements present on earth.

It is a colorless, odorless radioactive gas formed as a result of the radioactive decay of radium which, in turn, results from the decay of uranium.

Most soils and rocks emit some radon although concentrations vary widely among towns and neighborhoods.


Why worry about radon?

Long-term exposure to high levels of radon can lead to the development of lung cancer.

The National Academy of Sciences, on February 18, 1998, released a summary of the findings of the sixth committee on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VI) on the health risks associated with radon in indoor air. The committee concluded that, annually, between 15,400 and 21,800 lung cancer deaths in the United States can be attributed to breathing high indoor air radon.

Despite these predicted risks government agencies still find it difficult to convince people to test their homes.

The State of Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) still strongly urges all Connecticut residents to test their homes for radon and mitigate the home if elevated radon concentrations are confirmed.


How does radon enter my home?

Being a gas, radon easily can find its way out of rocks and soils, mix with other soil gases and enter homes and other buildings through cracks and openings in foundations.

Some radon can also enter homes through drinking water supplies. Radon can then enter the air after leaving the water during showering, cooking, and other water use activities.

Water from private wells may contain much higher levels of radon than public wells.

It is important to note that radon from soil gas is the primary source of radon in most homes. All homes and buildings contain some levels of radon. Radon concentrations can even be detected in outdoor air.


Radon Reduction Techniques

Various mitigation techniques are available to reduce indoor air radon concentrations. Homes with radon levels in excess of the 4.0 pCi/L (action level) but less than 7 pCi/L may be temporarily corrected by sealing cracks and openings in the foundation.

Please note: Sealing cracks is a temporary solution until the home can be mitigated by a qualified contractor. The Connecticut Department of Public Health does not recommend sealing of cracks as a permanent solution and should not be used as the sole radon reduction technique.

Most homes can be successfully mitigated with a technique known as sub-slab depressurization. This system utilizes four inch PVC piping and a special fan to collect and transport soil gases including radon from under the foundation and exhaust them above the roof eave.

There are a number of other mitigation techniques available for use in different home construction styles.


What are the proposed standards, guidelines for radon in air and water?

Both the EPA and the DPH use an "action level" of 4 pCi/L for radon in air.

This action level was selected in the 1980s to provide a goal that most contractors could achieve with existing mitigation systems. It does not completely protect one from the risk of developing lung cancer.

Compare this action level with the average levels found in Connecticut homes of 2.1 pCi/L in basements and 1.3 pCi/L in living areas.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), as amended in 1996, required the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for radon in public drinking water, but also provides for a higher alternative maximum contaminant level (AMCL) accompanied by a multimedia mitigation (MMM) program to address radon risks in indoor air.

The proposed Radon in Drinking Water Rule will be published in the Federal Register. Written public comments must be received at EPA by 60 days after the publication date.

For detailed information, EPA has posted the proposed rule on the worldwide web at: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html

In the absences of a radon MCL, the Connecticut Department of Public Health (DPH) recognized the need to establish a guideline that homeowners could use to make an informed decision whether to treat their private well water supply. The DPH recommends to homeowners served by a private well to consider treatment if their average annual (two or more samples in one year) radon in water is 5,000 pCi/L or greater.

Once EPA has promulgated a regulatory standard for radon in water the DPH will explore the feasibility of adopting the standards for the Connecticut Private Well Water Regulations.


Can the radon in my drinking water contribute to
my risk for developing cancer?

Different factors will affect your risk for developing lung cancer from radon.

These include: the levels of radon that you have been exposed to, the number of years that you have been exposed to high levels of radon, your smoking history, and the number and type of sources of radon in all of the buildings that you have lived and worked in.

In most homes and other buildings the primary lung cancer risk results from breathing air contaminated with soil gas containing radon.

In some homes that use private wells, radon in water can contribute to the radon exposure and resulting lung cancer risk. Occupants of these homes will be inhaling radon gas that leaves the water during showering and other water uses.

While it is easy to understand how inhaling radon from the air can expose lung tissue, occupants exposed to radon while drinking the water may also increase lung exposure. This may occur as a result of radon being absorbed in the stomach and carried to the lungs by the blood stream.

There is still controversy on risk associated with ingested radon and there is continuing research in this area.


How can I reduce radon in my drinking water?

Two systems are currently available for treating private well radon problems. (Public utilities will be required to monitor and treat their water once the radon MCL becomes law.)

The whole house granular-activated carbon (GAC) filter systems can be used to treat radon in water levels below 10,000 pCi/L.

Although these GAC systems are less expensive to install (prices range from $1,000 to 1,500) the carbon "bed" must be changed each year to avoid radioactive disposal concerns and a reduction in treatment ability.

An aeration system (prices range from $2,500 to 4,500) is needed for levels in excess of these levels. Both of these systems are under constant development and a number of variations of each system exist on the market.

Be certain that you are purchasing a system that will be able to effectively treat the highest level of radon that you can expect in your well.