General Radon Information

Massachusetts specific radon and radon level information can be found throughout this site. You will be able to find information about certified radon inspectors in Massachusetts, as well as detailed radon level information for every county in Massachusetts.

Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils.

It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation, even ones you can not see. Your home traps radon inside, where it can build up. Any home may have a radon problem. This means new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.

Any home may have a radon problem from such sources as:

1. Cracks in solid floors

2. Construction joints

3. Cracks in walls

4. Gaps in suspended floors

5. Gaps around service pipes

6. Spaces inside walls

7. The water supply

In 1988, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Radiation Control Program performed a study in conjunction with the EPA. The data gathered from that study estimates that one out of four houses may have levels above the 4pCi/L action level. However, the only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to perform a radon test.

Radon is a Class A carcinogen and the second leading cause of lung cancer. The increased risk of developing lung cancer from radon is directly related to the concentration of radon and the length of time that a person is exposed to it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that there are between 5,000 and 30,000 radon-related lung cancer deaths each year. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, according to EPA.

Cigarette smokers should keep their exposure to radon as low as possible. Smokers have eight times the risk from radon as non-smokers. If the house was tested in an infrequently used basement, it may have measured a radon level that is higher than the actual level you are exposed to, spending most of your time upstairs. People with young children should be more concerned with the possible consequences of radon exposure 20 years from now than someone in their late sixties or seventies. Families with a hereditary predisposition of cancer should be more concerned about radon exposure than families who don't have any history of cancer.

Although no level of radon is considered absolutely safe, the USEPA action level for radon is 4.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). (pCi/l= picocuries per liter, the most popular method of reporting radon levels. A picoCurie is 0.000,000,000,001 (one-trillionth) of a Curie, an international measurement unit of radioactivity. One pCi/l means that in one liter of air there will be 2.2 radioactive disintegrations each minute. For example, at 4 pCi/l there will be approximately 12,672 radioactive disintegrations in one liter of air, during a 24-hour period.)

The risk of developing lung cancer at 4.0 pCi/L is estimated at about 7 lung cancer deaths per 1000 persons, which is why the USEPA and IEMA recommend reducing your radon level if the concentration is 4.0 pCi/L or more.

Some common myths about radon:

MYTH: Scientists are not sure that radon really is a problem.

FACT: Although some scientists dispute the precise number of deaths due to radon, all the major health organizations (like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association and the American Medical Association) agree with estimates that radon causes thousands of preventable lung cancer deaths every year. This is especially true among smokers, since the risk to smokers is much greater than to non-smokers.

MYTH: Homes with radon problems can't be fixed, or cannot be fixed economically.

FACT: There are solutions to radon problems in homes. Thousands of homeowners have already fixed radon problems in their homes. Radon levels can be readily lowered for $900 to $2,500.

MYTH: Radon is only a problem in certain parts of the country.

FACT: High radon levels have been found in every state.

MYTH: A neighbor's test result is a good indication of whether your home has a problem.

FACT: Radon levels vary greatly from home to home. The only way to know if your home has a radon problem is to test it.

MYTH: It is difficult to sell homes where radon problems have been discovered.

FACT: Many types of problems can hinder a home sale, but when the problems are fixed before the home is listed, the sales are not slowed down. It is the same for radon. All homes should be tested for radon, and those with problems fixed before being listed for sale.

MYTH: I've lived in my home for so long, it doesn't make sense to take action now.

FACT: You will reduce your risk of lung cancer when you reduce radon levels, even if you've lived with a radon problem for a long time.

MYTH: Short-term tests cannot be used for making a decision about whether to fix your home.

FACT: Short term tests can be used to decide whether to fix your home, and for higher radon levels (8 pCi/l or higher) that is all that should be used. Keep in mind that, even though the action level is 4, this is not a "safe" level and that radon levels below 4 pCi/l still pose some risk. Radon levels in most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/l or less.

If you have further questions on radon, you may call the Radiation Control Program and they will advise you on how to get your home tested and assist you in interpreting the results.