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Radon - What Is It?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It is invisible, tasteless, odorless and chemically inert. Radon is produced during the breakdown (radioactive decay) of radium, which can be found in some soils, rocks and bedrocks.

The breakdown of radium, and subsequent release of radon and radon decay products such as bismuth, polonium and lead, is an example of "natural" radioactivity. (Artificial radioactivity occurs when products are released and elements changed into other elements because they are being bombarded with electrons, protons, or neutrons.)

Radon gas may be found in indoor or outdoor air, and in drinking water or other water. According to the EPA, radon may be in as many as one in five American homes, Since the biological effects caused by radon can be the same as the biological effects caused by other forms of radiation, such as the radiation from nuclear power plants, it is important to understand and limit your exposure.

However, since radon gas is so prevalent in certain areas, limiting ones exposure can be difficult. According to “The Harvard Health Letter” of January 1991, as much as 55% of the total human exposure of ionizing radiation may come from radon.

Exposure to airborne radon and its decay products is known to cause lung cancer in humans. Exposure to radon in drinking water has been accused of increasing the incidence of gastrointestinal diseases, including stomach and other cancers. Radon may enter a home's air supply from the ground below, or may enter a home's air supply from the home's water.

According to radon scientists such as W.A. Mills, up to 5,000 deaths a year can be attributed to radon in drinking water from private wells. And, according to a report presented at the EPA international radon symposium held in Atlanta, Georgia in February 1990, (Schmidt A, et al "EPA's approach to assessment of radon risk” ), there are between 21,000 and 40,000 deaths a year that can be attributed to radon.

The Federal Register (Volume 56 No.138; July 18,1991) indicates that radon in homes account for (as many as) 40,000 lung cancer deaths annually. That's almost one person every 20 minutes.

Radon kills more Americans each year than handguns (handgun deaths = 17,000 according to Porter Consultants, Inc., of Ardmor, Pa.)

Radon kills more Americans each year than drunk driving (drunk driving related deaths = 25,000 in 1989 according to the Mothers Against Drunk Driving).

Radon killed more Americans than AIDS. (Aids related deaths in 1989 = 19,161 according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, Ga.)