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What's the Problem?

Radiation, a form of energy, is all around us, produced by the earth and even by our own bodies. It exists in both natural and man-made forms and has many beneficial uses, including x-rays and the generation of electrical power.

Radon is a natural form of radiation that can cause serious health problems and is often found in igneous rock and soil.  An odorless, colorless radioactive gas, radon is estimated to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, responsible for over 20,000 estimated lung cancer deaths each year.  Further, two-thirds of our average annual dose from natural sources of radiation comes from radon, but we can take steps to reduce harmful levels of exposure.  Radon can be found in workplaces, homes, and schools. Exposure from radon can occur through breathing outdoor air, in buildings and homes, and by eating or drinking.

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According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon can get into buildings through:

  • Cracks in solid floors and walls
  • Construction joints
  • Gaps in suspended floors
  • Gaps around service pipes
  • Cavities inside walls
  • The water supply

Who's at Risk?

Anyone exposed to large doses of radon or to smaller doses over an extended period of time is at risk. Because children are growing more rapidly, they are more sensitive to radiation as there are more cells dividing and a greater opportunity for radiation to disrupt the process.

What Could Happen?

Health effects from radon exposure include lung cancer, and overall damage of lung tissue.  The onset of lung cancer can take many years and may not be immediately apparent. Smoking combined with radon exposure can also increase the chances of lung cancer and is especially serious as a health risk.

Can Health Effects from Radon Exposure Be Prevented?

Routine exposure to radon can be reduced by having a building tested to determine the levels of radon. Contact your State Radon Contact to determine the requirements associated with providing radon measurement and or radon mitigations/reductions in your state. Some states offer free or discounted test kits to the public. Testing kits can also be purchased at home improvement stores/center.

The Bottom Line

  • Test your home for radon;
  • Fix your building if radon levels are high;
  • Exposure to large amounts of radon can result in serious health effects, particularly lung cancer;
  • Smoking combined with radon exposure is particularly dangerous and especially increases the risk of lung cancer;
  • Children may be more susceptible than adults to the effects of radon exposure; and

Case Examples


Rachel and José are in love with a new home in a nearby neighborhood.  When looking at the house, both see the basement needs repairs. They also want the house tested for radon. The seller agrees to find a qualified tester through their state radon office.  The tester notes high levels of radon and suggests the seller take measures to reduce levels of radon in the house.  The seller agrees to hire a qualified radon mitigation contractor to reduce levels of radon in the home.  Rachel and José can now purchase the house and have peace of mind, knowing that their risk of radon exposure has been reduced.


Janelle and Brian have lived in the same house for ten years.  Brian is a frequent smoker and was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.   Janelle and Brian recently had their house tested for radon and saw the basement had high levels of the radioactive gas.  After their doctor asked, Janelle revealed she never spent much time in the basement, but that Brian often went in the basement to watch television and have some alone time.  Luckily, Brian’s lung cancer was diagnosed early and he was able to receive treatment.  He quit smoking and now lives with his wife in a home that has a radon mitigation system installed, reducing their risk of radon exposure.

  • Page last reviewed: September 15, 2017
  • Page last updated: September 15, 2017
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