This diagram shows radon treatment by activated carbon (Image: Bryan Swistock, Penn State)
Radon gas most often enters homes through cracks and holes in the basement foundation and floor. In some cases, radon can also enter by escaping from drinking water that enters the home from a private water well during showering, washing dishes and cooking. Regardless of the source, breathing radon gas increases the risk of lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Surgeon General, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.
January is National Radon Action Month, so this is a perfect time to test your home if you haven't done so already. Start with an inexpensive indoor air test available through "do-it-yourself" kits or qualified radon testing companies. These tests involve placing a radon-detecting device in the building for a few days to a few months. Radon in the air is measured in "picocuries per liter of air" or "pCi/L." Indoor air radon levels above 4 pCi/L are considered unsafe and approximately 40% of homes in Pennsylvania exceed this standard. A common way to fix, or mitigate, an indoor air radon problem involves a vent pipe system and a fan. This system sucks radon from the ground below the building and vents it outside. Implementing this system doesn't require major changes to building, but it does require technical knowledge and special skills. Your state radon office can help you locate qualified or state certified radon contractors in your area. They can study the problem within your building and determine the best treatment option for the situation.
In addition to indoor air testing, homeowners with a private drinking water well may want to test their water for radon through a state accredited water testing laboratory. If your water is found to contain radon, it can be mitigated by installing a point-of-entry treatment that will remove radon from all the water entering your home. This is usually done by a granular activated carbon filter or a device that aerates that water and removes the radon gas by releasing it to the air outside the home.
For more information on radon and testing, National Radon Action Month, or to find your state radon office, please visit the Environmental Protection Agency's radon website.
For more specifics on testing and treatment of radon in water, consult that Penn State Extension article entitled Reducing Radon in Drinking Water.