Radon is a chemical element that is formed by the decay of radium. Although the half-life of the most stable form of radon is only 3.8 days, (meaning that it naturally breaks down very quickly) radon is a very harmful gas. Radon gas is created by granite and shale in areas all around the world. As the radon gas seeps out of the ground, it can accumulate in poorly ventilated basements. Radon gas is much heavier than other components of the atmosphere so can reach dangerous levels in basements.
When testing for radon, the best method is to do long term testing. Testing is accomplished by hanging a detector in your basement for a week. You then send the detector off to a laboratory to analyze the results. If they return with a positive result you then should purchase a longer term test to confirm the results. Radon levels can fluctuate wildly so by having a longer scale test you’ll be able to confirm the presence of the radon and at what levels.
There are many opinions on what the acceptable level of radon is in your home. The European Union recommends that action should be taken in old house with a reading of over 11 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) and over 5 pCi/L for new houses while Canada recommends action with a reading of over 5 pCi/L. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has some of the strictest guidelines and strongly recommends action with a radon detection reading of over 4 pCi/L and encouraging action at 2 pCi/L. Major health studies have shown that concentrations of over 4 pCi/L create an increased risk of lung cancer.
The Surgeon General of the United States has said that over 20,000 deaths a year are caused by radon poisoning. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, only behind smoking. In addition to lung cancer, radon has been suspected of causing other, non-cancer illnesses such as multiple sclerosis however studies have not yet shown a definite relationship. Radon detection is a relatively cheap process and can help keep you and your family healthy.