Fracking and Radon Risk: Should You Test Your Home?

The Marcellus Shale Increases Radon Cancer Risk. Learn How to Test Your Home and Keep Your Family Safe.

Radon is an invisible gas that is produced by the decay of radioactive elements that naturally occur in rocks and soil. Although radon is natural, it is very dangerous to humans. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and causes approximately 21,000 cancer deaths each year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency divides radon risk into three categories based on the radioactivity of rock and soil.

Radon Risk in Pennsylvania

  • ZONE 3: Homes in Zone 3 have a radon level of less than 2 pCi/L (picocuries per liter). Philadelphia County is the only county rated Zone 3 in Pennsylvania.
  • ZONE 2: Homes in Zone 2 have a radon level between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L. Zone two counties include Cambria, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Mercer, Pike, Potter, Somerset,  Washington, Warren, and Wayne.
  • ZONE 1: Homes in Zone 1 have an average radon level greater than 4 pCi/L. Zone 3 counties in Pennsylvania include Adams, Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bradford, Bucks, Butler, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Chester, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Fulton, Huntington, Indiana, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mifflin, Monroe, Montgomery, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, Westmoreland, Wyoming, and York.

Why do some counties have higher levels of indoor radon?

Homes in Pennsylvania have higher than average radon levels. This is because the Marcellus Shale has especially high levels of naturally occurring radioactive elements. Many homes in Zone 1 are located in areas where the Marcellus shale is close to the surface. As radon is emitted from the rock and soil, it moves up through the ground to the air above. The gas gets into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation, construction joints, and pipes. The radon is trapped indoors where it can build up. Radon can also enter homes through well-water.

Fracking brings radioactive rocks and water from below the ground to the Earth’s surface. This can also increase exposure to radon. Some preliminary studies have linked fracking to increased radon levels.

Should You Test Your Home?

The EPA recommends that all homes be tested for radon. However, it is very important that homes in Zone 1 and Zone 2 are tested. A radon level greater than 2 pCi/L can significantly increase your family’s risk of lung cancer. learn more about the risk of fracking-associated radon in Marcellus Shale areas in our article “Could Marcellus Shale Fracking Release Radon into Your Home?

How to Test Your Home for Radon

You can’t see radon, and you can’t smell it or taste it. So, how do you know if radon is in your home? Start with a short-term test from the hardware store or from the National Radon Hotline (1-800-SOS-RADON). These kits cost about $15.00. Place the test kit in the lowest level of your home that is used as living space.

If the radon level in your home is 100 pCi/L or higher, you may request a free confirmation kit by calling the Pennsylvania Bureau of Radiation Protection at 800-237-2366. If your home has a radon level of 4 pCi/L or higher, you will want to make a plan to reduce radon and protect your family’s health. You can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99 percent with a radon reduction system. These systems use a pipe and fan to reduce indoor radon. You can request a do-it-yourself radon mitigation packet here.