Health Aspects of Radon…

In simplest terms, radon is a natural occurring gas whose particles are radioactive (#86… Rn-222 on the Periodic Table of Elements). Pressurized earth gas gathering under the basement floor or a home’s slab or crawl space areas, pushes through these cement floor or open areas, bringing in humidity, natural occurring elements, and chemicals that are in the dirt the gasses pass through. This gas in total might contain water (humidity), methane, radon, fertilizers or other chemicals leaching through the soils under a house or neighborhood.

Radon, being radioactive, is the most dangerous of any of the contaminants coming into a house. In quantity, it can be extremely dangerous. The EPA and other health agencies throughout the world agree on the health danger and impact. Of the 160,000 deaths from lung cancer in the US per year, 24,000 were “never smokers”. There has been a US Surgeon General Warning regarding radon since 1988, and for several years now, the EPA has proclaimed that the US looses 21,000-45,000 people per year due to radon induced lung cancer. Europe claims to have the same losses.

These mortality figures are calculated on a theorem based on historical factors relative to worldwide radiation studies over the last 100+ years. The EPA postulates that putting the total population of the US (approximately 291M people) in an environment of 1.25pCi/L… the average radon rate in households across the US, will yield a mortality rate of 21,000 - 45,000 deaths in the US per year.

In Wisconsin, this would relate to a total population rate of approximately 5.5M people, again being put into this same 1.25pCi/L, for a declared death rate of 411 (to 880) people per year, per the State of WI and EPA. The problem with this declared number? Few people in WI have homes with a radon rate of 1.25pCi/L throughout their homes (see EPA/WI map at bottom of this page)! If a person took an average radon rate in all of southern and central Wisconsin… the highest populated areas of Wisconsin, 10pCi/L would be a highly conservative average of basement radon rates, with 50%-100% (5-10pCi/L) being the average in upstairs “living” areas. If we assigned a rate of 7.5pCi/L to the general population of WI (instead of the 1.25pCi/L that very few have), it would yield a projected death rate of 2,466 - 5,277 (3,871 average) per year.

But that doesn’t take into account a very large population of WI living in 10pCi/L to 150pCi/L per year, and even some in the State as high as 800pCi/L. It would be easy to take this same theorem and double the lowest estimated risk to make up this difference (4,800). This would still fit well within the EPA’s and State’s estimated death toll attributable to radon. In fact, there are more than 3,700 deaths in Wisconsin due to lung cancer each year!

So, did cigarettes kill these people… or radon or other “agent”? A person could be a ¼ pack of cigarettes (5) smoker per day, and go home to many communities in WI and get the equivalent lung damage to smoking 5 packs of cigarettes (100) per day (18 hours per EPA) in radon concentrations (70pCi/L) just sitting in their homes.

Then, consider the population that exercise in these homes, raising their respiration rates by 300%, and deep breathing. This substantially increases the dangers of radon (lung damage). We get many instances through the year of people telling us about neighbors that died of lung cancer, mentioning that they exercised or “trained” in their basement through the winter… when radon rates in homes is the highest (200-300%+ from summer rates). We always tell people to never exercise in an unmitigated home. It simply causes more harm than good.

What about fitness or health clubs? If they haven’t tested for radon, a person doesn’t know what they may be inhaling while exercising there. Just because they’re built on-slab without a basement, doesn’t mean they don’t have radon. We’ve mitigated many on-slab construction sites in the Milwaukee area up to 15pCi/L (equivalent to smoking over one cigarette per hour at normal breathing rate), which certainly isn’t "high" compared to other areas of the State.

An important thing to remember with radon is that it causes lung “damage”. Only so many people with this “damage” will get cancer from it. It’s very similar to sun exposure to humans on many levels. Skin damage from the sun’s radiation exposure can cause Melanoma. It’s easy to find people in the Southern or Western US with a lot of skin damage from the sun that has occurred over their lifetime. Some will get cancer from this damage, others won’t… but the damage is still there. This is comparable to radon and lung damage that can cause lung cancer. Lung damage is simply impossible to visually see on a daily basis!

Care about free radicals? Because radon turns into lead when it breaks down within the body… the final breakdown in the Uranium chain, the largest lead exposure a person will get on a world-wide basis within a lifetime is from radon and radium (deep-well water consumption). This lead intake in humans has been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS and Leukemia. Want more information on radon, read on…

Facts about Radon:

• Radon is an airborne cancer causing radioactive element, produced by the natural occurring breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.

• The Breakdown Chain of Uranium is ... Uranium, Thorium, Radium (can be ingested from drinking water), Radon (can be inhaled), Polonium. Bismuth ... and finally…. Lead.  Lead does not leave the human body.  It builds up in the brain, fatty tissue. and bone marrow, potentially causing blood related diseases (Leukemia) and brain tumors.

• Radon is one of the oldest researched carcinogens in the world, investigated since the 1500's and finally identified in 1879.

• Radon follows the "linear, no threshold model" of radiation ... simply meaning the higher the rate, the more deadly it is.

• A radon level of 15 pCi/L (not unusual in southern WI) is equivalent in lung damage to each person living within a household smoking a pack of cigarettes per day.  Each additional 15pCi/L is equal to smoking an additional pack of cigarettes per day.  In other words, a level of 60 pCi/L, fairly common in communities west of Milwaukee, is the equivalent to smoking 4 packs of cigarettes per day.

• The EPA (2008) estimated that upward of 123 people die each day (one every 12 minutes) within the United States from radon induced lung cancer.  The same number of people die in Europe each year from radon induced lung cancer.  Worldwide ... about 100,000 deaths from radon per year!

• According to the World Health Organization (WHO ... Oct. 2009), the radon "Action Point" world-wide should be 2.7pCi/L, and every time 2.7pCilL is doubled (5.4pCi/L, etc.) a person's chances of getting lung cancer during their lifetime goes up by 20 times.

• According to the World Health Organization (WHO ... Oct. 2009), the worlds radon "issues" can be blamed on architects and builders not paying attention to the problem.  New home construction methods for radon were developed and printed in the early 1990’s, yet most architects and builders have never studied these methods, or use them.

• Two times as many women in the US die from lung cancer than breast cancer each year.

• Three times as many men in the US die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer.

• Between two and three times as many women in the US die from lung cancer than men.

• New homes perform no better than older homes, relative to high radon rates.  New homes however, have more incidents of radon rates over 2OpCi/L, than older houses do.  This may have to do with deeper basements (higher gas pressure under the slab) to achieve higher basement ceiling levels.

• It's estimated that every 1600 homes mitigated in the US has saved one life. 

• It's estimated that every 5200 homes built with new-home construction mitigation methods ( ) will save one life.

• It's estimated that 700 lives are saved per year due to current radon mitigations in the US.

• Well over half the homes in southern & central Wisconsin have high radon levels. The State of WI estimates that well over a million homes within the State have high radon levels.

• There are accounts of homes measuring over 300 pCi/L in Southern WI ... the equivalent in lung damage to each person living within a household smoking over 24 packs of cigarettes per day ... or an annual radiation exposure that's equivalent to over 15,000 chest X-rays.

• Radon can only be detected through testing. You can't smell, taste, or see radon.

• According to the World Health Organization (WHO ... October 2009), past and present cigarette smokers are 7 times more susceptible to lung cancer living In a high radon environment.  This rate is down from "15 times", as previously thought.  The WHO claims mortality numbers are the same... but they found that radon was about twice the health concern as previously thought.

• 4pCi/L .. the EPA action point, is the equivalent radiation to 200 chest X-rays every year! A level of 10pCi/L is the equivalent to nearly 500 chest X-rays with in a year’s time, and 20pCi/L is equivalent to nearly 1,000 chest X-rays per year! All these levels are highly prevalent in Southern WI.

• 4pCi/L... the EPA’s “Action Point”, is the equivalent in radiation to 200 chest X-rays every year!  A level of 10pCi/L is the equivalent to nearly 500 chest X-rays within a year’s time, and 20pCi/L is equivalent to nearly 1,000 chest X-rays per year!  All these levels are highly prevalent within homes in Southern and Central Wisconsin.

• Similar to lung cancer caused from cigarettes and skin cancer due to prolonged sun exposure, radon has long-term effects, causing cancer in later life.  Early-on exposure causes numbers of lung cancer cases typically starting at the age of 38.

• Like cigarettes, there is a US. Surgeon General's Warning (1988) regarding the seriousness of radon within homes.

• The higher the radon rate in a basement, the higher the rate throughout the entire house.  Typically, the first floor of the house is 1/2 to 3/4 the radon level of the basement.  With a forced- air heating / cooling system, once radon enters the first floor, the furnace carries it evenly to the rest of the house.

• The EPA says that there are no "safe" levels of radon.  4.0pCi/L is the EPA real estate "Action Point"... not a safe level!  This level is equal to smoking over 127 packs of cigarettes per year, or a relative amount of radiation to having over 200 chest X-rays per year.

• The EPA claims that two-thirds of all deaths per year due to radon are caused by home environments having as little as 2pCi/L - 4pCi/L.

• The EPA designated January as National Radon Action Month as indoor radon levels can soar during the colder months when the ground outdoors is frozen, stopping radon from escaping through the soil’s surface, causing sub-soil gas to move horizontally underground, coming into homes and buildings.

• Opening windows and doors, turning on exhaust fans, using a clothes dryer or fireplace, and even flushing toilets decrease a home or building's pressure.  This causes radon rates to double or triple within 30 minutes, as it enters the home through an open sump crock or through foundation cracks.

• Older, draftier homes have a lower constant house pressure, causing radon to infiltrate and spike as outdoor temperatures lower, or barometric pressure fluctuates night to day, or during weather changes.

• Like cigarettes, radon is classified as a class 1 or "A" carcinogen by the EPA... proven to cause lung cancer.

• Air-exchange systems must be adjusted to leave homes in a positive or pressurized state (more air coming in than leaving).  In a negative state or vacuum, the radon rate in a home will increase as more and more earth gasses are pulled in through cracks in the basement floor, through the cement floor itself, and from the sump crock.

• Some building codes require an exhaust fan be installed when "furnishing" a basement into "livable" space.  This reduces the pressure of the home's basement, dramatically increasing the radon rate up to 300%.  Other building codes require cold air returns to be cut into the basement ducting when furnishing a basement.  In un-mitigated homes, this takes whatever radon rate there is in the basement, and evenly passes it through the entire house.

• Every Pica Curie per Liter (pCi/L) of radon within a house produces 7 alpha particle impacts within the average adult’s lungs every second!  The real estate "Action Point" of 4pCi/L would produce 28 alpha particle impacts to each person's lungs every second!

• There are approximately 3,700 cases of lung cancer in Wisconsin per year. Mathematically, relevant to chance, each of these cases can be attributed to radon in total, or in part.

• Unlike other countries, the US ... and Wisconsin, has no requirements to test public buildings or schools for radon. They leave this up to the individual facility to test or not.