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Radon and Your Health

What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you can't see, smell, or taste. It is found everywhere in the world. Uranium naturally decays into radium that further breaks down into radon gas.


how radon enters the home

How does radon enter your home?

Because radon is a gas, it can seep up through the soil and enter buildings. Once radon enters a building, it is easily dispersed through the air, and will typically be at its highest concentration in the lowest level of the building. Radon gas itself is relatively harmless. It is the decay product of radon gas that release damaging energy particles leading to lung tissue damage when inhaled. 

There are many different ways for radon to enter your home. Some of the ways include:

  1. Cracks in solid floors
  2. Construction joints
  3. Cracks in walls
  4. Gaps in suspended floors
  5. Gaps around pipes
  6. Cavities inside walls
  7. The water supply


The risk of living with radon

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that around 21,000 people die from radon-induced lung cancer each year in the U.S.

There are no immediate symptoms from radon exposure. As radon naturally decays, it produces radioactive particles that get stuck in your lungs when you breathe. This causes damage to lung tissue and can lead to lung cancer after a prolonged period of time. The onset of lung cancer would usually occur years (10-20) after exposure.

While radon is a proven carcinogen, not everyone exposed to elevated radon levels will develop lung cancer. At this time, lung cancer is the only known effect on human health from exposure to radon in the air. There is also no evidence that radon-induced lung cancer risk differs between children and adults.

Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:

  • How much radon is in your home
  • The amount of time you spend in your home
  • Whether you are a smoker or have every smoked Drawing of lungs

Smoking and radon

Smoking alone is the leading cause of lung cancer. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. If you live in a home with high levels of radon, smoking raises your risk of lung cancer by 10 times.

You can help prevent lung cancer by quitting smoking. There are many different ways to quit. The Oregon Quit Line can help you make a plan that works for you. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Visit OHA's Tobacco Prevention and Education Program website to learn more about smoking reduction efforts in Oregon.

 

Radon Risk if You Smoke
Radon Level If 1,000 people who smoked were
exposed to this level over a lifetime*
The risk of cancer from
radon exposure compares to**
WHAT TO DO:Stop smoking
and
20 pCi/L About 260 people could get lung cancer 250 times the risk of drowning Fix your home
10 pCi/L About 150 people could get lung cancer 200 times the risk of dying in a home fire Fix your home
8 pCi/L About 120 people could get lung cancer 30 times the risk of dying in a fall Fix your home
4 pCi/L About 62 people could get lung cancer 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash Fix your home
2 pCi/L About 32 people could get lung cancer 6 times the risk of dying from poison Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 20 people could get lung cancer (Average indoor radon level) (Reducing radon levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult.)
0.4 pCi/L About 3 people could get lung cancer (Average outdoor radon level)
Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be lower.pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter)* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.
Radon Risk if You Never Smoke
Radon Level If 1,000 people who never smoked
were exposed to this level over a lifetime*
The risk of cancer from
radon exposure compares to**
WHAT TO DO:
20 pCi/L About 36 people could get lung cancer 35 times the risk of drowning Fix your home
10 pCi/L About 18 people could get lung cancer 20 times the risk of dying in a home fire Fix your home
8 pCi/L About 15 people could get lung cancer 4 times the risk of dying in a fall Fix your home
4 pCi/L About 7 people could get lung cancer The risk of dying in a car crash Fix your home
2 pCi/L About 4 people could get lung cancer The risk of dying from poison Consider fixing between 2 and 4 pCi/L
1.3 pCi/L About 2 people could get lung cancer (Average indoor radon level) (Reducing radon levels below 2 pCi/L is difficult.)
0.4 pCi/L   (Average outdoor radon level)

Note: If you are a former smoker, your risk may be higher. 
pCi/L (pico Curies per Liter)
* Lifetime risk of lung cancer deaths from EPA Assessment of Risks from Radon in Homes (EPA 402-R-03-003).
** Comparison data calculated using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 1999-2001 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Reports.

To find out more information about the health risks of radon, visit the Environmental Protection Agency Radon page.


Protect yourself and your family from radonfamily

See Radon Risk in Oregon to learn more about radon risk levels in your neighborhood. Testing is the first step. There are several different measurement methods that may be used to determine radon levels. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages. Users must decide which method is best suited to their situation. Please continue to our Testing for Radon Gas webpage to learn more on radon testing.

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