Radon is a tasteless, odorless gas that seeps into homes through cracks and openings in the foundation or slab. Inhaling radon carries serious health risks, which is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends fixing homes with radon levels at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L).
Radon is often found in the water in homes, in particular, homes that have their own well rather than municipal water. When the water is agitated, as when showering or washing dishes, radon escapes into the air.
Most often, the radon in your home’s indoor air can come from two sources, the soil or your water supply. Compared to radon entering your home through water, radon entering your home through soil is usually a much larger risk. If you are concerned about radon and you have a private well, consider testing for radon in both air and water. By testing for radon in both air and water, the results could enable you to more completely assess the radon mitigation option(s) best suited to your situation. The devices and procedures for testing your home’s water supply are different from those used for measuring radon in air.
The radon in your water supply poses an inhalation risk and a small ingestion risk. Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes. Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon on it.
Radon in your home’s water is not usually a problem when its source is surface water. A radon in water problem is more likely when its source is ground water, e.g., a private well or a public water supply system that uses ground water. Some public water systems treat their water to reduce radon levels before it is delivered to your home. If you are concerned that radon may be entering your home through the water and your water comes from a public water supply, contact your water supplier.
If you’ve tested your private well and have a radon in water problem, it can be easily fixed. Your home’s water supply can be treated in one of two ways. Point-of-entry treatment for the whole house can effectively remove radon from the water before it enters your home’s water distribution system. Point-of-entry treatment usually employs either granular activated carbon (GAC) filters or aeration systems. While GAC filters usually cost less than aeration systems, filters can collect radioactivity and may require a special method of disposal. Both GAC filters and aeration systems have advantages and disadvantages that should be discussed with your state radon office or a water treatment professional. Point-of-use treatment devices remove radon from your water at the tap, but only treat a small portion of the water you use, e.g., the water you drink. Point-of-use devices are not effective in reducing the risk from breathing radon released into the air from all water used in the home.
For information on radon in water, testing and treatment, and existing or planned radon in drinking water standards, or for general help, call EPA’s Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791 or visit www.epa.gov/safewater/radon.html. If your water comes from a private well, you can also contact your state radon office.