The Oregon Radon Awareness Program (ORAP) works to educate the public on the hazards of radon gas. ORAP promotes radon testing and mitigation and encourages radon-resistant new construction throughout the state.
Through our webpages, you can learn about radon. Read our Frequently Asked Questions about radon below (FAQs) or watch Eddie's story. For questions, contact us (en Español 1-866-528-3138).
NEWS: Radon Testing Plan Required for Oregon Schools
- Under ORS 332.166-167, school districts must submit a radon testing plan to OHA by September 1, 2016. Testing must be done before January 1, 2021.
- For schools: Visit Testing in Oregon Schools to learn more, including how to submit your plan and appendices for planning and carrying out radon testing in schools.
- FAQs about radon in schools.
Has your school district sent a radon testing plan to OHA? Check here
Check here for a list of Oregon school districts from whom OHA has received radon testing plans (as of November 1, 2016). If a district sent a plan before September 1, but did not receive an email acknowledging receipt, than it may have not been successfully submitted. [OHA had email/fax problems in August, for which we apologize.]
Radon testing plan can be sent (or resent) to OHA by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or fax (971-673-0979). Radon plans may also be mailed to:
Oregon Radon Awareness Program
800 NE Oregon Street, Suite 640
Portland, OR 97232-2162
Is yours a charter school? The school radon statute (ORS 332.167) applies to charter schools, too. [Charter schools are subject to health and safety statutes, per ORS 338.115.] Charter school administrators should send radon testing plans to OHA, as described above.
Finally, Oregon School Boards Association (OSBA) has a “generic” model plan (based on OHA’s radon protocol). This will satisfy the radon plan requirement if printed out on district letterhead and signed by district staff.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas. It occurs naturally in rocks, soil and water. You can’t see, smell, or taste radon. Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much is present indoors. Radon gas moves up through the soil and can be drawn into our homes by slight pressure differences. Once inside, radon can become trapped and build up to unsafe levels.
Is radon dangerous to human health?
Yes. Radon can cause lung cancer. Radon is thought to cause over 21,000 lung cancer deaths .This is approximately 13% of all lung cancer deaths. This means that, in Oregon, approximately 276 radon-related lung cancer deaths happen each year. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. It is the leading cause of lung cancer in people who have never smoked.
Radon gas breaks down and releases small particles that can get trapped in your lung. Those particles can release tiny bursts of energy called alpha particles that can damage lung tissue. Alpha particles cannot pass through the skin. The damage done in your lungs by the alpha particles can lead to lung cancer over time. The length of time between being exposed to radon and the start of disease can be several years.
If you have any health concerns, it is important to speak with your health care provider.
How does lung cancer impact the health of Americans?
While the sun is the leading environmental cause of cancer (melanoma of the skin i.e. skin cancer), radon is the leading environmental cause of cancer death. The National Cancer Institute found that over 9 in 10 people diagnosed with skin cancer live at least five years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, for lung cancer, only 1 in 6 of people diagnosed with lung cancer are still with us five years after diagnosis.
Should people who smoke tobacco be especially concerned?
Yes. A person who smokes and is exposed to elevated levels of radon over time has a risk of lung cancer that is especially high. Charts on The Risk of Living with Radon, found in EPA's A Citizen's Guide to Radon, compares risks of lung cancer at various levels of radon. These are compared to risks of death from causes that may be more familiar. [EPA's A Citizen's Guide to Radon is good summary of key points on radon.]
These numbers are estimated averages for the American population. An individual’s risk may be higher or lower. Because of several factors that are largely unknown, it is difficult to calculate the exact increased risk of getting lung cancer due to radon for an individual. [These difficult-to-determine factors, include: precise family history of cancer; lifetime exposure to environmental cancer risks (such as smoking and second-hand smoke exposure history); and lifetime history of radon exposure from every residence past and future.]
Besides lung cancer, does radon cause any other human health effects?
Breathing radon does not cause any short-term human health symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, headaches, or fever. There is no conclusive evidence that children are at greater risk than adults from radon. Currently, there is also no conclusive evidence that radon exposure leads to increased risk of contracting other cancers or diseases.
Can people be “screened” or tested for radon exposure?
OHA is unaware of any standard medical screening test that can be used to determine if an individual has incurred damage to their lung tissue because of radon. The National Cancer Institute discusses the benefits and potential harms of cancer screening in general.
Similarly, OHA is unaware of any laboratory test that identifies a person’s lung cancer as being caused by radon exposure. A method to test lung cancer cells to identify a “radon signature” in them has not been discovered.
If you have any health concerns, it is important to speak with your health care provider.
Are there some areas in Oregon that have higher radon levels than others?
Generally speaking, there are some areas that have been found to have higher radon levels. However, you should not assume that your home will have low radon levels just because you live somewhere that is not among those areas with higher levels. It is very possible that a home in an area considered to have low risk could have elevated radon levels. The opposite could also be true.
The only way to know whether your home has elevated radon levels is to test it.
How can I get an inexpensive radon test kit?
Kits can be found at hardware stores for $10 to $30 or online. When choosing a kit, check to see if there is an analysis fee, in addition to the test kit price. Online tests can be as accurate as kits from the hardware store. There are many online test kit options. Below are two options for buying inexpensive kits that include shipping and analysis fees:
I’m selling/buying a home – I need a radon test result NOW!
Currently, radon testing for real estate transactions (or any other residential purpose) is not required under Oregon law. But knowing a home’s radon level is a good idea for the health of the people who live there.
Radon measurement (testing) companies are often hired when the results are needed quickly (like in the 10-day inspection period of a home sale).
If your radon concern is related to a real estate transaction, you may be interested in EPA’s Home Buyer's and Seller's Guide to Radon (pdf). According to the EPA, for real estate transactions, a radon test should be done in a home’s lowest possible living space. This is true even if the buyers don’t intend to occupy that space regularly.
A list of radon Measurement Companies in Oregon is on our website
How can I find a radon measurement (testing) company in Oregon?
If you do not want to perform the test yourself, or you need quick test results (like for a real estate transaction), you can hire a company to test your home for radon. [For a do-it-yourself test kit, it may take several weeks for a laboratory to send back the results.]
A list of radon Measurement Companies in Oregon is on our website. Assuming you follow the basic instructions on a test kit that you purchased yourself, the accuracy of your results will be very close to that of a professional test result, and significantly less expensive.
Can I test my home for elevated radon myself?
Yes. Testing your home yourself for elevated radon is fairly simple. You should test at the lowest level of the structure where you spend the most time. For example, if you have a finished basement where you spend time, test the basement. However, if you only do laundry in the basement, then you should test the first floor.
It is recommended to place the test in commonly used rooms such as bedrooms and family rooms. We recommend avoiding kitchens and bathrooms because their exhaust fans and/or humidity may change radon or radon decay product levels in the room. These changes skew the result of a short-term test.
See Performing a Radon Test Yourself for tips on making sure your results are accurate.
I don't need to test because I live in a new house and I don't have a basement, right?
Not necessarily true - elevated radon levels can occur in just about any house in all areas of Oregon. The only way to know is to test your home.
What are the different types of radon test kits?
There are two types of radon test kits available to homeowners: short-term kits (2 to 90 days of measurement) and long-term kits (91 days to one year).
Short-term tests are less expensive and allow you to gain results quickly, but they only measure a small window of time. Long-term tests are more reliable because they average together all of the high and low measurements over a longer period of time. This allows you to know the actual level of radon to which people in the household are exposed to over the year. However, long-term testing takes at least 91 days of testing to get results.
Continuous radon monitors, usually used by radon measurement professionals, can take short-term or long-term radon measurements.
To understand which type is right for you, we suggest you read about the advantages and disadvantages of each type of kits at Types of Radon Gas Testing.
What is a “safe” level of radon?
It is important to know that there is no safe level of radon. [Radon levels are measured in picocuries per liter (pCi/L).] Outdoor air has radon levels from .1 to 1 pCi/L, and on average in the U.S. is about .4 pCi/L. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an action level of 4.0 pCi/L in homes and schools. This is not a health-based standard. EPA states that there isn’t a 100% “safe” amount of radon. The World Health Organization recommends that a home be mitigated when its confirmed radon level is 2.7 pCi/L or above.
Above all, the goal of radon reduction is risk reduction.
Although not required by law (except in Oregon's public & charter schools) radon testing is recommended to protect you and your family’s health.
The National Radon Program Services provides more information on why you should test and why 4.0 pCi/L is the recommended “action level” for radon.
I just found out my home has confirmed elevated radon levels. Should I tell my healthcare provider?
Receiving “high” radon test results (i.e. 4.0 pCi/L +) may be discouraging if you’ve lived in the home for a long time. [Even radon levels below 4.0 pCi/L pose some risk. You can reduce your risk of lung cancer by lowering your radon level.] But, in addition to having the home mitigated to reduce future radon exposure for you and others in the household, you might consider disclosing this fact to your healthcare provider. This may inform their medical decision-making in the future.
National Radon Program Services has additional information on lung cancer screening and radon exposure. Breathing Easier shows how healthcare providers can discuss radon with their patients.
My home has confirmed elevated radon levels. How do I “fix” (or mitigate) it?
Reducing radon levels in your home requires technical knowledge and skill, and typically involves hiring a radon mitigation contractor. The most common approach to mitigating a radon problem is referred to as sub-slab depressurization or sub-slab suction. This technique draws radon-filled air from beneath the foundation through a pipe using a continuously running fan, and vents the radon outside. Sealing cracks and holes in the foundation makes this technique more effective. You can learn more about residential radon mitigation from EPA-funded National Radon Program Services.
You can see a diagram of sub-slab depressurization system here.
Which radon mitigation companies does OHA recommend?
OHA cannot make recommendations of any particular radon company or service.
A list of radon Mitigation Companies in Oregon is on our website. Companies on this list have at least one radon mitigation technician on staff who has been certified by the National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP) or the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB). Current listings of certified mitigation technicians in Oregon can be found at their respective web sites, www.nrpp.info and www.nrsb.org.
This list should be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to be an endorsement by the Oregon Health Authority of any mitigation company. The private companies listed on the webpage are provided as a convenience. The State of Oregon does not regulate, certify, endorse or sponsor their products, services or information.
These organizations are not the only sources of radon services.
What should I consider when choosing a radon mitigation company?
When you’re choosing a radon mitigation company, we recommend you consider the following:
- Get bids from several mitigation companies, and ask for (and check) their references.
- Ask each company's representative if they will guarantee (in a written contract) that the radon in your home will be reduced to a certain level. Normally, a home's indoor radon can be reduced to below 4 pCi/L. Sometimes a home’s radon can be reduced to less than 2.0 pCi/L or even 1.0 pCi/L, although reductions below these levels may be dependent on the engineering of the home as well as geology of the ground underneath it. Each home is different.
- Ask about the company's experience with mitigation of homes in your area/neighborhood. A company that understands the geologic conditions (hard, clay soil vs. loose, sandy soil, etc.) of an area will likely design a system optimized for your house.
- Oregon does not have state regulations that govern how companies mitigate for radon. Most mitigation companies follow technical standards/recommendations made by the EPA or the American Association of Radon Scientists & Technologists, Inc. (AARST). Many radon mitigation companies in Oregon reduce radon levels by using a method called sub-slab depressurization (see diagram on left-hand side of page).
- Sub-slab depressurization is not the only proven method; the layout of your home and other factors may make other methods more appropriate. When interviewing a potential company, be sure to ask about which mitigation system standard they follow such as Active Depressurization Radon Mitigation Standards (ASD-RMS) for Low Rise Residential Standards - June, 2006.
- Ask if they will include a short-term radon test in the price you'll pay. After the work is done, you can “test” their work yourself through a third-party – a laboratory not connected to the company that’s just done work for you.
- Generally speaking, the cost to mitigate the average home in Oregon is $1,500 to $2,100, although this depends on a home's size, engineering, the ground beneath it, and geographic location. Price should not be the only factor in the decision.
Is financial assistance (loans) available to help homeowners pay for radon mitigation?
Enhabit, a non-profit home renewal organization, offers its services, including the financing of radon mitigation systems, to most of Oregon. Learn more about their services at Enhabit's Clean & Safe Air web page. Call Enhabit direct at 1-855-870-0049 to see if they do work in your area of Oregon.
U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has the Section 203(k) program that may be used to finance radon mitigation systems. To locate an approved lender, search HUD’s Lender List or call HUD’s customer service at 1-800-225-5342.
These may not be the only organizations offering financing for radon mitigation. Nationally, some carriers of employee health savings accounts (HSAs) now consider radon mitigation as a qualified medical expense; check with your HSA about this possibility for you. At this time, the State of Oregon does not offer financial assistance to homeowners for radon mitigation.
Can I put in my home’s radon mitigation system myself?
It is possible (and legal in Oregon) for a homeowner to put in a radon mitigation system into their home themselves. We don’t recommend it unless you have specialized radon mitigation knowledge. Radon mitigation is not just a matter of putting a hole in the ground that’s attached to a fan. Constructing an effective system requires in-depth knowledge of air-pressure differences as well as use of special equipment to test them. Those considering a DIY approach should understand that if mitigation is done incorrectly, it is possible to make your radon problem worse.
What about radon in well water?
Radon gas can be found in water. As with radon gas that comes up from the soil beneath a home, the main health concern with radon in well water is still lung cancer. However, if your drinking water comes from a surface water source, such as a river, lake, or reservoir, the majority of that radon (if it’s present) will be released into the air before reaching your water supplier or home.
Radon is only a concern if your drinking water comes from underground, such as a private well, though not all water from underground sources contains radon. But it takes a large amount of radon in well water to cause - by itself – elevated radon in a home. [Estimates are that indoor air concentrations increase by approximately 1 pCi/L for every 10,000 pCi/L in water.] But because a home's radon is likely to come from the soil under the foundation, EPA recommends you first test your home using the directions given above. If you have concerns about radon in your well water, consider hiring a measurement company (above) or test it yourself by buying an online "radon in water test kit." Penn State Extension has more information at Reducing Radon in Drinking Water.
What about radon in granite countertops?
Radon in natural stone and building materials, such as granite countertops, may contain low levels of uranium. However, these are typically not major contributors to the radon levels in a home. Most of the time radon is coming from the soil beneath the home. No approved sampling or testing methods exist to test granite for radon at this time. See EPA's Granite Countertops and Radiation.
What is Radon Resistant New Construction (RRNC)?
RRNC incorporates techniques in the construction of new homes, schools, and other buildings to seal radon gas entry points, prevent radon gas intrusion, and vent the radon outdoors. Because a building’s potential for elevated radon cannot be measured before it is constructed, specific components of a radon mitigation system (e.g., gravel layers, ventilation pipes) are installed while the building is under construction.
If, after testing, elevated radon is found in the finished building, a radon fan can easily be added and the system activated. Under current statute (ORS 455.365), RRNC is required in all public buildings (including schools) and residences built after April 1, 2013, in seven Oregon counties (Baker, Clackamas, Hood River, Multnomah, Polk, Washington and Yamhill). Oregon’s Building Codes Division details its requirements for RRNC in Appendix F – Radon Control Methods.
It’s important to understand that structures built using RRNC may still have elevated radon. Radon testing of the structure must be done after construction is completed. If radon levels are confirmed to be elevated, than RRNC features can be activated (as described above).
What about radon in schools?
The EPA began investigating radon in schools in 1988. The initial studies show that there were elevated levels of radon in schools in every state. A later study, the National School Radon Survey, showed that 19.3% of all U.S. schools (nearly one in five) have at least one frequently occupied room with short-term radon levels above the U.S. EPA action level: (≥4.0 pCi/L).
To understand radon levels in Oregon schools, Oregon enacted a law in 2015 requiring radon testing in Oregon public schools. HB 2931 (which is now ORS 332.166-167) requires that schools be tested for elevated radon before 2021. This law requires OHA to;
A) Disseminate information on radon and the dangers of radon to school districts, and
B) To develop processes and model plans - using national standards – for schools to use to test for elevated levels.
OHA’s responses to both requirements can be found in Testing for Elevated Radon in Oregon Schools: A Protocol and Plan (pdf).
Under ORS 332.167, Oregon school districts must submit a plan for how they’ll test their schools to OHA on or before September 1, 2016.
Should students, staff, and visitors be allowed in school buildings that have rooms with confirmed radon levels at 4.0pCi/L or higher?
According to EPA, radon averages 1.3 pCi/L inside structures and 0.4 pCi/L inside homes and buildings across our country. It is impossible that a person can ever “get away” completely from radon. The overall goal of radon reduction is risk reduction. Large buildings have many rooms and the radon levels in each room may vary. Sometimes those levels can be quite different from each other.
The focus of radon testing is not on the school building as a whole. Instead, the goal is to understand radon levels in individual, frequently-used rooms in the building where people may spend long periods of time.
Most importantly, because students and staff spend much of their time at home, the home may be their most significant source of radon exposure. The only way to know is to test. People can test their homes themselves for as little as $15.
Review the other Frequently Asked Questions on this page to see how this can easily be done.
What about exposure to potentially elevated levels of radon during confirmatory testing?
For this specific testing process, the key word to note is ‘potentially.’ A structure’s radon levels are constantly going up and down over a 24h period and over the seasons, sometimes dramatically. So a single short-term test result of 4.0 pCi/L or above must be confirmed with a second test, either another short-term test or a long-term test. A confirmatory test provides a firm basis for decision-making for a homeowner, a business or a school district.
The central health concern is radon exposure over the long-term, not during relatively short time periods like during radon testing. Similarly, an individual’s lifetime radon exposure depends on radon levels at all the locations where that person regularly spends time. As an example, measuring radon at a school (and then reducing it, if elevated) may not reduce lung cancer risk among students and staff who return to homes with elevated radon levels. The only way to know is to test all structures in which one regularly spends time.
A recommended follow up testing strategy after initial short term results of 4.0 to 8.0 pCi/L is to conduct a long-term test. This is consistent with previous EPA school testing guidance, and current school measurement standards developed under the American National Standards Institute/American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists.
This measurement strategy is considered best practice, and is used by homeowners and school districts nationally.
What about students with special needs, chronic conditions or who are medically fragile? Are there radon guidelines specific to these populations?
Neither EPA nor OHA has specific guidance on radon for these populations. Breathing radon does not cause any short-term human health symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, headaches or fever. Children (who have higher respiration rates than adults) have been reported to have greater risk than adults for certain types of cancer from radiation.
However, no conclusive data exists at this time on whether children are at greater risk than adults from radon. There is no conclusive data at this time that radon exposure causes illnesses other than lung cancer.