Radon in water is not a problem until the gas escapes the water as it enters your home through faucets, showers, bathtubs and washing machines. Radon is a radioactive gas which comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. As radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless element, the need for a water test is all the more critical.
Radon 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 cannot see. It can also get into your home through well water when you turn on your shower and other water using points inside your home. Your home may trap radon inside where it can build up in concentration. Any home may have a radon in water or radon in air problem; new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, and homes with or without basements.
State Contaminant Guideline Levels (in pCi/L); (As of 7/7/2016)
Massachusetts = 10,000 pico curries/liter New Hampshire = 2,000 ” “
Maine = 4,000 ” ” Rhode Island = 4,000 ” “
EPA = 4,000 ” “
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 when gas is released into the air in the home
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 4.0 Pico curries/L in air action level. However, the only way to know if your home has a problem is to perform a 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 in water or air 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 in AIR 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.
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. If your well tests positive for radon in water, a water treatment professional or state certified lab can be of assistance. For more information on radon see: Radon in Mass.