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EPA Radon Risk Information

Fifty-five percent of our exposure to natural sources of radiation usually comes from radon. Radon is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas that comes from the decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. Levels of radon vary throughout the country. Radon is found all over the United States and scientists estimate that nearly one out of every 15 homes in this country has radon levels above recommended action levels.

Radon usually moves from the ground up and migrates into homes and other buildings through cracks and other holes in their foundations. The buildings trap radon inside, where it accumulates and may become a health hazard if the building is not properly ventilated.

When you breathe air containing a large amount of radon, the radiation can damage your lungs and eventually cause lung cancer. Scientists believe that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It is estimated that 7,000 to 22,000 Americans die each year from radon-induced lung cancer. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths and smokers exposed to radon are at higher risk than nonsmokers. Testing your home is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon.

EPA recommends that initial measurements be short-term tests placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home, and performed under closed-building conditions. An initial short-term test ensures that residents are informed quickly should a home contain very high levels of radon. Short-term tests are conducted for two days to 90 days. Closed building conditions should be initiated at least 12 hours prior to testing for measurements lasting less than four day, and are recommended prior to tests lasting up to a week.

If the short-term measurement result is equal to or greater than 4 picocureies per liter (pCi/L), or 0.02 working levels (WL), a follow up measurement is recommended. Follow-up measurements are conducted to confirm that radon levels are high enough to warrant mitigation. If the result of the initial measurement is below 4 pCi/L, or 0.02 WL, a follow-up test is not necessary. However, since radon levels change over time, the homeowner may want to test again sometime in the future, especially if living patterns change and a lower level of the house becomes occupied or used regularly.

There are two types of follow-up measurements that may be conducted, and the choice depends, in part, on the results of the initial test. An initial measurement result of 10 pCi/L (or 0.05 WL) or greater should be followed by a second short-term test under closed-building conditions. If the result of the initial measurement is between 4 pCi/L (or 0.02 WL) and 10 pCi/L (or 0.05 WL), the follow-up test may be made with either a short term or a long-term method. Long-term tests are conducted for longer than 90 days, and give a better estimate of the year-round average radon level. The closer the long-term measurement is to 365 days, the more representative it will be of annual average radon levels. On the other hand, short-term tests yield results more quickly and can be used to make mitigation decisions. If the long-term follow-up test result is 4 pCi/L (or 0.02 WL), or higher, EPA recommends remedial action. If the average of the initial and second short-term results is equal to or greater than 4 pCi/L or 0.02 WL, radon mitigation is recommended.

In certain instances, such as may occur when measurements are performed in different seasons or under different weather conditions, the initial and follow-up tests may vary by a considerable amount. Radon levels can vary significantly between seasons, so different values are to be expected. The average of the two short-term test results can be used to determine the need for remedial action.

Lead-based paint is hazardous to your health.

Lead-based paint is a major source of lead poisoning for children and can also affect adults. In children, lead poisoning can cause irreversible brain damage and can impair mental functioning. It can retard mental and physical development and reduce attention span. It can also retard fetal development even at extremely low levels of lead. In adults, it can cause irritability, poor muscle coordination, and nerve damage to the sense organs and nerves controlling the body. Lead poisoning may also cause problems with reproduction (such as a decreased sperm count). It may also increase blood pressure. Thus, young children, fetuses, infants, and adults with high blood pressure are the most vulnerable to the effects of lead.

Children should be screened for lead poisoning.

In communities where the houses are old and deteriorating, take advantage of available screening programs offered by local health departments and have children checked regularly to see if they are suffering from lead poisoning. Because the early symptoms of lead poisoning are easy to confuse with other illnesses, it is difficult to diagnose lead poisoning without medical testing. Early symptoms may include persistent tiredness, irritability, loss of appetite, stomach discomfort, reduced attention span, insomnia, and constipation. Failure to treat children in the early stages can cause long-term or permanent health damage.

The current blood lead level which defines lead poisoning is 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood. However, since poisoning may occur at lower levels than previously thought; various federal agencies are considering whether this level should be lowered further so that lead poisoning prevention programs will have the latest information on testing children for lead poisoning.

Consumers can be exposed to lead from paint.

Eating paint chips is one way young children are exposed to lead. It is not the most common way that consumers, in general, are exposed to lead. Ingesting and inhaling lead dust that is created as lead-based paint "chalks," chips, or peels from deteriorated surfaces can expose consumers to lead. Walking on small paint chips found on the floor, or opening and closing a painted frame window, can also create lead dust. Other sources of lead include deposits that may be present in homes after years of use of leaded gasoline and from industrial sources like smelting. Consumers can also generate lead dust by sanding lead-based paint or by scraping or heating lead-based paint.

Lead dust can settle on floors, walls, and furniture. Under these conditions, children can ingest lead dust from hand-to-mouth con- tact or in food. Settled lead dust can re-enter the air through cleaning, such as sweeping or vacuuming, or by movement of people throughout the house.

Older homes may contain lead based paint.

Lead was used as a pigment and drying agent in "alkyd" oil based paint. "Latex" water based paints generally have not contained lead. About two-thirds of the homes built before 1940 and one-half of the homes built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily-leaded paint. Some homes built after 1960 also contain heavily-leaded paint. It may be on any interior or exterior surface, particularly on woodwork, doors, and windows. In 1978, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission lowered the legal maximum lead content in most kinds of paint to 0.06% (a trace amount). Consider having the paint in homes constructed before the 1980s tested for lead before renovating or if the paint or underlying surface is deteriorating. This is particularly important if infants, children, or pregnant women are present.

What is carbon monoxide (CO) and how is it produced in the home?

CO is a colorless, odorless, toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of solid, liquid and gaseous fuels. Appliances fueled with gas, oil, kerosene, or wood may produce CO. If such appliances are not installed, maintained, and used properly, CO may accumulate to dangerous levels.

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning and why are these symptoms particularly dangerous?

Breathing CO causes symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and weakness in healthy people. CO also causes sleepiness, nausea, vomiting, confusion and disorientation. At very high levels, it causes loss of consciousness and death.

This is particularly dangerous because CO effects often are not recognized. CO is odorless and some of the symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu or other common illnesses.

Are some people more affected by exposure to CO than others?

CO exposures especially affect unborn babies, infants, and people with anemia or a history of heart disease. Breathing low levels of the chemical can cause fatigue and increase chest pain in people with chronic heart disease.

How many people die from CO poisoning each year?

In 1989, the most recent year for which statistics are available, thee were about 220 deaths from CO poisoning associated with gas-fired appliances, about 30 CO deaths associated with solid-fueled appliances (including charcoal grills), and about 45 CO deaths associated with liquid- fueled heaters.

How many people are poisoned from CO each year?

Nearly 5,000 people in the United States are treated in hospital emergency rooms for CO poisoning; this number is believed to be an underestimate because many people with CO symptoms mistake the symptoms for the flu or are misdiagnosed and never get treated.