Radon FAQ

What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas which occurs in nature. You cannot see it, smell it, or taste it.

Where does it come from?
Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium. Radon can be found in high concentrations in soils and rocks containing uranium, granite, shale, phosphate, and pitchblende. In outdoor air, radon is diluted to such low concentrations that it is usually nothing to worry about. However, once inside an enclosed space (such as a home) radon can accumulate. Indoor levels depend both on a building's construction and the concentration of radon in the underlying soil.

How does radon affect people?
The only known health effect associated with exposure to elevated levels of radon is an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and the time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years.

Scientists estimate that from about 5,000 to about 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year in the United States may be attributed to radon. (The American Cancer Society expects that about 130,000 people will die of lung cancer in 1986. The Surgeon General attributes around 85 per cent of all lung cancer deaths to smoking.)

Your risk of developing lung cancer from exposure to radon depends upon the concentration of radon and the length of time you are exposed. Exposure to a slightly elevated radon level for a long time may present a greater risk of developing lung cancer than exposure to a significantly elevated level for a short time. In general, your risk increases as the level of radon and the length of exposure increase.

Does every home have a problem?
No, most houses in this country are not likely to have a radon problem; but relatively few houses do have highly elevated levels. The dilemma is that, right now, no one knows which houses have a problem and which do not.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) and the Whiteside County Health Department recommend testing your home for radon because radon levels can vary markedly from one house to the next, even for houses next door to each other, and the only way to know whether radon is a problem in your home is to test. If your radon level is 4.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) or more, IEMA and WCHD recommend reducing the indoor radon level. IEMA licensed radon mitigators are listed on the IEMA website's Radon Section or by calling 1-800-325-1245 for a list.

Even though we will have house specific information in the future, it is for Agency use only and privacy laws prohibit releasing it. We only provide information on a countywide basis and always recommend testing to learn whether the house in question has an elevated radon level.

How does radon get into a home?
Radon is a gas which can move through small spaces in the soil and rock on which a house is built. Radon can seep into a home through dirt floors, cracks in concrete floors and walls. Floor drains, sumps, joints, and tiny cracks or pores in hollow-block walls.

Radon also can enter water within private wells and be released into a home when the water is used. Usually, radon is not a problem with large community water supplies, where it would likely be released into the outside air before the water reaches a home. (For more information concerning radon in water, contact your state's radiation protection office.)

In some unusual situations, radon may be released from the materials used in the construction of a home. For example, this may be a problem if a house has a large stone fireplace or has a solar heating system in which heat is stored in large beds of stone. In general, however, building materials are not a major source of indoor radon.

Is radon a concern in Whiteside County?
In early spring of 2004 the Whiteside County Health Department conducted a radon study using one household in each of the county's 22 townships. The objective of the study was to determine if radon is a concern within the county and if there are geographical differences in radon levels within the county.

To accomplish this we choose like constructed homes; poured concrete foundations, equipped with curtain tile sump pits and high efficiency HVAC systems. The tests at each of the 22 dwellings were also completed simultaneously.

Map of the study results (pdf format).

The USEPA has set 4 pCi/L (picocurries per liter) as the action level; the level at which residents should take steps to reduce radon levels.

As you can see on the map 15 of the 22 townships had elevated radon levels. In fact, the average of all the tests was 9 pCi/L. Clearly, radon gas is a concern in Whiteside County and it is in the best interest of all residents to test.

How can I have my home tested and what can I do if the levels are high?
The IEMA website's Radon Section provides very detailed Illinois-specific radon information including a list of Illinois licensed radon measurement professionals as well as laboratories that sell radon test kits. The website also provides information on Illinois requirements for systems that reduce (mitigate) radon levels and a list of Illinois licensed mitigation contractors. Another radon website worth viewing is the USEPA website. However you should be aware that the information on this site may differ from Illinois regulations and is not specific to Illinois.