What is Radon? How to Test It?

Last updated:

Truth be told, there are plenty of people who suffer from lung cancer even if they are not even smokers or even when they are not consistently exposed to second-hand smoke. One of the most common reasons why that is so is due to radon, which is often considered the top reason for lung cancer among non-smokers. But what is radon and how do you test for it?

Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is naturally occurring because it can come from the decaying uranium found in rocks and dirt under the home. Even though radon is always present around us, too much of it can be quite dangerous. And you can test for radon in your home by hiring a professional or by buying a testing kit.

The fact that you can never detect radon with your senses is what makes it a silent killer. It can build up and have high levels in your home to the point that can possibly cause lung cancer. As such, it is important for you to test the radon levels in your home so that you can rest assured that you and your family members are safe.

What Is Radon?

Radon is a colorless and odorless gas that is naturally occurring and is almost always present in the air we breathe. The reason that it is naturally occurring is the fact that it comes from the radioactive decay that can be found in the very small amounts of uranium that you can find in rocks and in the dirt. As such, it is usually just a trace amount of radon that is found in the outdoor air as there are only trace amounts of uranium found in most rocks and soils.

Yes, the rocks and the soil that are normally occurring anywhere have uranium in them but we are only talking about trace amounts of that radioactive element. And if you remember your basic chemistry classes, uranium will steadily break down and decay. The decay of this radioactive substance leads to the formation of radon.

What Are The Main Causes Of Radon In Homes?

Radon can be found all around us because, again, it comes from naturally occurring rocks and soil. However, let us go back to the fact that radon disperses into the atmosphere only when you are talking about the outdoor air. 

There are only trace amounts of radon in outdoor air because it immediately disperses to the point that it can become quite harmless and, when tested, is only minimal at best. In that sense, even if there is radon in the outdoor air that we breathe, there shouldn’t be any reasons for you to worry about it.

But what happens if radon doesn’t disperse into the atmosphere? That is when it can become quite dangerous as there is no way for you to detect radon with your senses alone due to the fact that it is colorless and odorless.

Most of the dangerous radon exposures happen in homes, schools, and workplaces as that is when it will be difficult for radon to immediately disperse into the atmosphere given the fact that such places are usually enclosed and minimally ventilated. 

The reason why this happens is that the rock and soil found underneath such structures may end up leaking radon through the cracks and holes in the foundation of those buildings. As such, the radon gas gets trapped in the building with only a small chance for it to disperse into the outside air and into the atmosphere.

When radon is trapped inside a building, it will eventually continuously build up steadily until the levels reach a point where the radon in the air can already be dangerous. And when the radon levels in the air reach dangerous levels, that is when we should be worried about this gas.

What Does Radon Cause?

One of the biggest killers in society today is cancer. And while there are many types of dangerous cancers that you can possibly suffer from, the most common of them all not counting prostate cancer for men and breast cancer for women is lung cancer. It is also the deadliest as it has accounted for 25% of all cancer deaths according to cancer.org.

There are many possible causes of cancer in the lungs as our air is getting more dangerous every single year with all of the chemicals and gases that are blending with the air we breathe. And while smoking has always been the leading cause of lung cancer deaths (over 480,000 per year) especially for the chain smokers and for those who are regularly exposed to second-hand smoking, there is another killer that has accounted for over 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The problem with this cause of lung cancer is that it tends to be a silent killer that is very difficult to detect and nearly impossible to test by using our senses alone. And yes, the silent killer we are talking about here is the above mentioned radon gas.

Going back, radon can steadily build up over time in a house or a building as rocks and soil under the structure release the gas. If the structure has cracks and holes in the foundation, the radon gas can seep into the building thereby allowing it to steadily build up especially when you consider that most houses, schools, and workplaces tend to be enclosed and are not always ventilated properly.

Because of that, the radon can build up to dangerous levels. The radon, when exhaled, will find its way into the lungs as the cells in the lungs are exposed to a small amount of radiation. But when the radon levels are high enough, imagine yourself breathing the gas on a regular basis thereby exposing your lungs to more and more radioactive substances every single second. And because of that, you may end up suffering from lung cancer before you even know it or before you even found out that there are ridiculously high levels of radon in your home or in your workplace.

According to National Radon Defense, here are the symptoms of lung cancer from radon exposure:

  • Persistent cough
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing up blood
  • Chest pain
  • Frequent infections like bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

So, if you are suffering from those symptoms, it is best for you to go see a doctor so that you can have yourself checked for cancer and get treated immediately in case you really do have lung cancer. Of course, it is also a good idea to test your home for radon as well.

How To Test Radon

Again, the worst part about radon is that you cannot see or smell it because it is a colorless and odorless gas. That means that there is almost no way for you to detect it in the air with your senses alone as radon is indeed a silent and invisible killer that may be present in your own home. As such, it can be quite difficult for you to tell whether or not there are high radon levels in your home especially if you don’t know how to test for radon. 

So, if you want to have your home tested for radon, the best way for you to do so is to hire someone who can test radon in your home for you. It will always be a good idea for you to contact your state radon program so that you can find out who can test radon levels for you. But, from the EPA website, you can check these agencies out so that you can know more about radon testing:

  • National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP)

Toll-Free: (800) 269-4174 or (828) 348-0185

Fax: (828) 890-4161

Email: National Radon Proficiency Program (info@nrpp.info)

  • National Radon Safety Board (NRSB)

Toll-Free: (866) 329-3474

Fax: (914) 345-1169

Email: National Radon Safety Board (info@NRSB.org)

However, you can also test your home’s radon levels yourself by making use of a radon test kit. There are radon test kits that can be found online as it is quite readily available on Amazon. However, the National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University sells radon test kits online for discounted prices in case you think that the radon test kits that are available in online stores might be a bit too pricey for you.

How You Can Reduce Its Levels

Radon Mitigation Pump On My Home

If there are high levels of radon in your home or if you just want to make sure that the radon levels in your house stay low and stable, the best way for you to reduce its levels is by venting the gas out. You can do so by having a vent pipe system and fan installed in your house so that the radon gas from underneath the structure gets vented out of your home. Of course, it also doesn’t hurt to make sure that your house is well-ventilated so that the radon gas doesn’t linger in it too long.

But, in case the radon in your home comes from your water supply especially if you are using a deep well, you can have the water treated so that the radon in your water will return to safe levels. However, if the water comes from a different source, it is best to contact the source as soon as possible.