When a client calls our office to book a home inspection we always ask them if they want us to test the house for radon. The most common response we get is, “Radon? What is that?” While public awareness of radon has increased over the last 10 years, there are still many home buyers (and real estate professionals) who are unfamiliar with radon.

Radon is a naturally-occurring radioactive gas that comes up from the ground. The most common source in the North Georgia area is granite. We have some notable pieces of granite in the Atlanta area that go by the names of “Stone Mountain” and “Kennesaw Mountain.” But the question still remains: “Is radon something I should be worried about?” Let’s look at four common myths about radon that we have heard from home buyers, real estate agents, and even other home inspectors.

Myth #1: “There is no real scientific evidence to show that radon is a dangerous.”

This myth should have been dismantled around 10 years when the World Health Organization published the WHO Handbook on Indoor Radon.  This document is based on the research and contributions of over one-hundred scientists, doctors, and radon professionals from twenty-five different countries around the world.  All the research represented in this document was boiled down to the following conclusion:

  “Epidemiological studies confirm that radon in homes increases the risk of lung cancer in the general population.  Radon is the second most important cause of lung cancer after smoking in many countries…. it is the primary cause of lung cancer among people who have never smoked.”

Additionally, in 2005 the U.S. Surgeon General issued a Health Advisory on health risks related to indoor radon and recommended that all homes be tested.

Myth #2: “The radon test results were right at 4.0 pCi/L so its probably not that big of a deal.”

We have heard this myth come from more than one real estate agent after a house tested high for radon. 4.0 picocuries per liter is the limit set by the EPA to evaluate whether the radon levels are elevated within a residential property. It would make sense to assume that if the radon level was right at the limit then it might not be that bad… but this assumption would be false.

According to a leading geology textbook used in colleges and universities across the country, constant exposure to radon levels of 4.0 pCi/L would be the equivalent of receiving 300 chest X-rays per year or smoking 1/2 a pack of cigarettes per day. That kind of sounds like a big deal.

Myth #3: “There isn’t much radon down here in Atlanta.”

It is true that the radon levels in the Atlanta area are, on average, much lower than many northern states. However, the radon levels are still high enough to make it a concern. The map below was compiled by the University of Georgia Radon Education Program:

As you can see on the map, many metro-Atlanta counties have elevated radon levels in around 1 out of every 5 houses that were tested.

Myth #4: “You only need a radon test if the house has a basement.”

Based on the hundreds of radon tests we have conducted in the Atlanta area, it is true that there is a greater likelihood of finding elevated radon levels in a house with a basement. Our findings have been consistent with the map above, where around one out of ever four or five houses with a basement tests high for radon. Those numbers drop in houses built on a slab or crawlspace. However, we have found elevated levels of radon 10 pCi/l or higher in houses built on both slab and crawlspace foundations. Additionally, there have been multiple high-rise condo buildings around Atlanta where radon levels have tested very high, even on the 14th floor the building! (This phenomenon is due to the rock for the concrete being quarried in the North Georgia mountains. Many condo buildings have concrete floor, walls, and ceiling, and if there is granite in the concrete then it would make sense for there to be elevated radon levels inside the building.) The reality is that you never know what the radon level might be until a test is run.

The Good News

Now that we have looked at four common myths about radon in the Atlanta area you might be feeling a little nervous. Here’s the good news straight from the U.S. Surgeon General: “Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.” We regularly explain to home buyers that elevated radon levels do not mean that a house is bad or that you can’t buy it. The key is just to make sure you get it tested so you know what steps need to be taken. A competent radon mitigation company can install a mitigation system that reduces radon levels down to safe levels. Many builders in the Atlanta area are installing passive radon mitigation systems at the time of construction as a key selling point.

If you have additional questions about radon you can check out these two helpful resources from the EPA:

The Home Buyers and Sellers Guide to Radon

Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction