Believing that radon is only a problem in some parts of the country is just one of the myths surrounding the radioactive gas that's responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Elevated radon levels have been found in one in 15 homes nationwide. That's why every January the Environmental Protection Agency reminds us to test our homes and fix them if radon levels are a threat.
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Once inside the home, the radon can build up. Any home may have a radon problem—new homes, old homes, well-sealed homes, drafty homes, and homes with or without basements, says the EPA.
You can't see radon, but it's easy to find out if you have a radon problem in your home by using a radon test kit. The amount of radon in the air is measured in picocuries per liter of air, or pCi/L. The EPA says that radon levels of 4 pCi/L or above pose a risk and should be remediated. In most homes, radon levels can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below.
In Consumer Reports tests of radon kits, we recommended one short-term kit, the RTCA 4 Pass Charcoal Canister, $20, and one long-term test, the Accustar Alpha Track Test Kit AT 100, $28, but found that typically long-term tests, which take readings for at least 90 days, are more accurate than short-term kits. As you can see, it takes only a small investment to check your home.
If you find elevated radon levels, contact your state radon office for help in identifying qualified mitigation contractors. You can also contact a private radon proficiency program for lists of privately certified radon professionals serving your area. For links and information, visit the EPA's website.
—Mary H.J. Farrell