What is radon?
You can't smell or see radon. It's an odorless, colorless gas that is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. If you're a smoker, the presence of radon in your home will considerably increase your chance of getting lung cancer. A study published in 2005 in the journal Epidemiology concluded your chance of getting lung cancer increases by 11 percent to 21 percent at average radon concentrations of about 3.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air over an exposure period of 5 to 30 years. The EPA recommends radon mitigation at 4.0 pCi/L.
The presence of radon doesn't mean your home was built over an atomic-waste dump. Its origins are natural--from the breakdown of uranium found in almost all soil. The gas finds its way into a home through such paths as cracks and other holes in the foundation. The greatest concentrations of radon gas are found in the Northeast US and the levels are usually higher in below grade basements with poor ventilation.
All homes have Radon, it is everywhere, but at a certain level it can become dangerous. If you have a below grade portion of your home with poor ventilation that you are going to spend a lot of time in, you should get a radon test. If you already own the home, there are plenty of affordable tests that you can get from your local hardware store for less than $30.
If you do have radon, it is fairly easily fixed by drilling a hole through your foundation and venting the air in the rocks under your foundation through a pipe and out of your home. This will free the pockets of air with high levels of radon from seeping into your home. You probably won't want to do this yourself. It can cost anywhere form $600-$2000 to fix. You can find one through your state radon office or through these private organizations: the National Environmental Health Association and the National Radon Safety Board.