There are several ways people can be exposed to radon. Before we explain those ways, it’s important to know what radon is. Radon is a naturally-occurring cancer-causing gas that is found in homes throughout the world.
Where does radon come from?
Radon comes from uranium, a radioactive metal that has decayed over billions of years and turns into another solid element called radium. Radium is about a million times more radioactive than uranium, making it a very dangerous element. The radium then continues the decay process and turns into a gas, called radon over the next several hundred to a couple of thousand years. Radon seeps through the soil and enters the home through small cracks, holes, or voids in basement slabs, crawl spaces, and slabs on grade. Homes act as a vacuum, sucking these gasses from the soil and up through the main and upper living areas where people are then exposed to these radon decay products.
So, what are the modes of exposure?
Inhalation: This is the most common route of radon getting into the body. The radon in the air is breathed into the lungs, where it attaches and continues to decay inside the body.
Ingestion: Radon enters the mouth and is ingested and absorbed through the digestive tract. The most common form of this is radon in water. Homes with wells are the most susceptible to water contaminated by radon.
Percutaneous Absorption: Radon attaches to the skin and is absorbed into the body.
Which mode is the most dangerous?
Inhalation, without a doubt, is responsible for the vast majority of radon-related cancer diagnoses. Radon exposure via inhalation is known to cause lung cancer. It is responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths per year in the United States. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Radon in water is the second leading cause of radon-related cancer, responsible for approximately 168 cancer deaths per year in the United States. It’s estimated that 89% of these deaths are due to lung cancer and 11% from stomach cancer. Wait. Lung cancer caused by radon in water? Yes. This is most often due to people breathing in water particles (steam) in the shower or other airborne sources. There is no evidence that percutaneous absorption causes any negative health effects.
In summary, lung cancer due to breathing in radon decay products is by far the most deadly mode of radon exposure. Getting your home tested for radon is the first step to ensuring your home is safe from elevated radon levels. If the readings are high and you also have well water, you should then also have your water tested for radon.
When you’re ready, please visit our scheduling page to schedule a 48-hour professional radon test. We service Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins, Loveland, Greeley, Windsor, and Longmont. Recent data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) suggests that ALL 64 counties in Colorado are Zone 1: “High radon potential (probable indoor radon average greater than 4 pCi/L.”