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Health Library : Environmental Medicine



What is radon?

Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. It comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and is released into the air we breathe. Radon is found all over the United States--in buildings, homes, offices, and schools--and can reach drastically high levels, causing a major health concern. It is estimated to cause 21,000 lung cancer deaths in this country annually, according to the EPA.

How does radon get into homes?

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. Typically, radon moves up through the ground to the air above and into homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon, where it can build up once inside. Homes of any age and construction can have radon.

How can you tell if your home has radon?

Testing for radon is inexpensive, easy, and the only way to know if you and your family are at risk of exposure. EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. The EPA also recommends that schools be tested.

What should you do if you find your home has radon?

A radon problem can be fixed. There are simple ways to fix a radon problem that are not too costly and even very high levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels.

Why is radon a risk to human health?

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that become trapped in your lungs when you breathe. This may lead to lung tissue damage and, eventually, to lung cancer, over the course of a lifetime. Not all people exposed to elevated radon levels will develop lung cancer, and the amount of time between exposure and onset of disease may be years.

Smoking combined with radon exposure poses an especially serious health risk. The chance of getting lung cancer from radon depends on:

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

How can you get more information on radon?

Contact your state radon office or visit the EPA's website at:

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Environmental Medicine

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