Radon & Shale Gas

Exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause for lung cancer.

                        Radon gas is a naturally occurring gas produced from the radioactive decay of uranium. While uranium is found in rock formations deep in the earth, the gas produced is slowly released through fissures or cracks in the different layers, eventually leading to the surface. Over time the radon gas migrates to the surface and is released into the air. This process is accelerated when the movement of geological layers increases pressure on rock formations creating new fissures for gas to be released. Shale gas development disturbs many protective layers of rock and water causing radon to be released in unprecedented amounts. Marcellus shale is considered to be a highly radioactive rock. Considering that so much of our methane gas is being harvested from Marcellus shale the natural gas we use in our homes has become an added source of exposure to this radioactive material.


Radon can enter your home in many ways. Unconventional gas drilling often increases exposure to radon by increasing the number and size of pathways to the surface. It can enter through the foundation of your home, from the air outside, through water wells, and even in your cooking and heating gas. 


It is recommended that all homes in Pennsylvania have an in-home radon detection system.



What are the effects of radon on your health?

Exposure to Radon is known to cause lung cancer and is currently the number 2 cause of lung cancer in the United States. People are exposed to it mostly in their homes or in other buildings. It can migrate through the soil under your home and enter through the foundation. Radon is easily dissolved and can, therefore, pollute your water as well.


When you have well water in your home, radon can be present in your water. Cooking, bathing, drinking doing dishes or anytime you are running water, radon gas escapes from the water into the air. Radon bonds to water molecules making it even easier inhale when taking a hot shower causing more damage to health. The major danger with radon in water is when it is inhaled and ingested once it has been aerated by coming out of the faucet


How can weather affect radon levels?

Radon levels can fluctuate drastically with different weather conditions. Variation in temperature, rain, snow, wind and barometric pressure can all cause changes to indoor radon levels. Rainy days can cause more radon in the home because of low barometric pressure causing radon gas to seep up from the soil and through cracks in the basement floor and foundation. When the air rises during the heating season radon can get trapped at the lower levels of the home. Frost on the ground can also cause radon to travel into a dry basement. Make sure to consider weather in when testing for radon, especially short term.

How can you protect your health from radon gas?

Radon is invisible and odorless and requires special monitoring equipment to detect. The EPA recommends that readings in your home should be lower than 4 picocuries per liter, 4piC/L.  Pennsylvania has one of the biggest Radon problems in the country with 40% of homes measuring at 4piC/L or higher. If you find your home does have a high concentration of radon it can be reduced through home radon reductions systems. We suggest you contact a professional radon mitigation firm to learn more.


If the radon level is high in your home you should also test your water for radon.  Water can be tested for under $30, which includes lab fees. Finding elevated levels of radon in your water may indicate that your water has been polluted by shale gas development and there could be other contaminants present as well. You should stop using your well water immediately and contact the DEP to report the possible contamination. Please see below for a list of DEP certified water testing labs.


How can you test for radon gas in your home?

There are several ways to check the level of radon gas in your home. Hardware stores sell a kit that allows you to collect a sample of the air in your home and mail to a third party for assessment. You can also hire a certified radon gas specialist to run a test for you with high-quality equipment. The best measure of radon exposure is a home monitor that measures both your short term and long term averages. This way you will know if the amount of gas has increased. Monitoring for radon is particularly important when living next to shale gas development.


See the table below for local certified radon mitigation firms.

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