Why Radon in Water is a Health Concern

radon in water

“I spoke with XYZ company and they told me that because our home’s “air” Radon level is low, not to worry about lowering the “water” Radon Levels???”

I can’t tell you how many customers we speak with in the period of a month who tell us this same exact story.

In this article we’ll help to clear up the misconceptions, and misinformation about Radon. We’ll explain why you need to make sure that levels in your home are below the recommended limits in BOTH the air and the water and why Radon in your water poses a serious concern.

“Doesn’t Radon from water only add a little to a home’s Air Count?”

Getting right down to business, here’s the part that causes so much confusion and misunderstanding for most homeowners.

Up until only the last 5-10 years most of the media discussions and concerns regarding Radon health issues was centered primarily on how much Radon gas a person breathed in through their home’s overall interior air supply. Because of this there has been a great deal of confusion as to why and how Radon from water is a danger.

Prior to this period, most home inspectors would advise their customers to do a standard air Radon test kit to measure the Radon levels in their soon to be home. You may have even seen one of these kits, if you’ve purchased a home before.

These kits are left inside a home for 2-4 days, usually in a basement or first floor living space. The kits are collected after the “set” period, then tested to determine the average, overall indoor air Radon count …in other words, they tell you the average amount of Radon a home has at any given point in the home’s living space.

Let’s take a look at why doing this only tells a part of the story, and see what’s missing.

10,000 pCi/L in Water = 1.0 pCi/L in the Air

For every 10,000 pCi/L of Radon that is either added or lowered from a home’s water supply, approximately 1.0 pCi/L is added or lowered to that same home’s air Radon count.

Lets use an example that might help explain this:

Lets say your home happens to have tested at 10,000 pCi/L in the water. Lets also say it happened to have tested at 2.0 in the air. So, you start thinking about installing a Water Radon Mitigation system to lower the water levels below safe limits.

Then, some well meaning but partially misinformed advise arrives from a friend.

Someone tells you that you don’t need to do anything to the level of Radon in your water because the level of Radon in your air is already well below the recomended safe limit of 4.0 pCi/L. They explain that by adding a Water Radon System (which incidentally will remove almost all of the 10,000 pCi/L from your home’s water) you’ll only be lowering the Radon in your home’s air that much more (approximately another 1.0 pCi/L).

You figure, “the air is already safe, so I really don’t need to lower it or the water Radon numbers any further.  I’m already safe, right?”

You’re only partially correct.

Close Proximity – High Concentration

The concern over having Radon in your home’s water supply has very little to do with how much the water Radon count is adding to the overall air Radon count in your home (although it does affect it some).

The health risk from having Radon in water comes from breathing in Radon gas that is highly concentrated and at a very close proximity to your body.

If your home happens to have high levels of Radon in its water, each and every time you take a shower, run a load of dishes, do the laundry, or turn on a faucet, you are coming in close proximity to high concentrations of Radon gas.

Typically, these kinds of exposures from water Radon run at a much higher and more concentrated dose than what you come in contact with when it comes to the overall air Radon numbers in the average home.

How does this happen?  Because of a thing called aeration.

Radon and Aeration

If you read our previous article The Difference between Water Radon and Air Radon, you already know that Radon gas is always looking for a way to escape; both from the earth underneath your home as well as from the water that comes in from your well.

In the case of water, each and every time water leaves any exit point in your home (faucets, appliances etc.), any Radon that is present in your water supply is being agitated and released from that water supply in very concentrated doses.

How does this happen? Any time water passes through a “grated” or obstructed passageway, its natural tendency is to release any gases or oxygen it may carry.

For very different reasons, today’s faucets and shower heads are actually designed to take advantage of this principle. These devices all have “aerator” screens built into them. These screens have two main jobs:

1. They help remove sediment particles from the water used in your home.

2. They help to conserve by utilizing aerated oxygen instead of relying on water alone.

These devices do an extremely good job at what they are intended for. Unfortunately, they also do a very good job of “aerating” Radon gas into the close proximity air your breathe.

Shower Heads and Radon

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to water Radon, is taking a shower.

Today’s shower heads are extremely efficient. Because of tightened water standards shower heads have been designed to function with as little as 1/4 of the water most homes are actually capable of delivering.

Most homes are capable of delivering upward of 10 gallon per minute flow rates, if a water exit point is unobstructed. If you do the math, a quick 10 minute shower could easily consume 100 gallons of water, if it had no shower head installed.

Most modern shower heads are able to reduce this down to around 2-3 gallons per minute, or 20-30 total gallons of water. How? They are extremely good at “aerating” the water supply.

They make you feel as though a nice supply of high pressure water is doing all the work when you shower, when in fact air is doing the majority of the heavy lifting. You get clean, and the environment thanks you for using less water. It’s a win-win…just not when it comes to Radon exposure.

Some Like it Hot

The final piece of this puzzle I’d like to shed some light on, is how water temperature affects Radon exposure.

If you are anything like my wife, you like taking a nice hot shower. Let me clarify that even further…a really long, really hot shower, to be exact!

I know, right now you’re probably saying “but it just feels so great at the end of a long, tiring day.” No argument here, my friend. I agree. It does feel great.

What I can tell you is the hotter your showers typically are, the more steam they give off. This is a bad combination if you happen to have high levels of Radon in your water supply. Why? Because that Radon concentrated steam has to go some place.

And in a small confined space like a tub or shower stall, a large percentage of it ends up going directly into your lungs. This is not a good a thing.

1. The higher the amount of Radon in your water, 2. the longer you are exposed to the gases released from that water and 3. the hotter that water is…the more your health risk factors increase when it comes to breathing in Radon gas.

These factors combined won’t typically have an immediate effect on a person’s health. They take their physical toll much more gradually and discretely. If you have yet to test your home for Radon, sooner is far better than later!

What to Do

I know at times it can be incredibly tempting to not want to know if you have a problem. When I was a kid, my Mom used to joke (half serious-half joke) that “ignorance is bliss.”

Although there is some truth to this kind of short term thinking, this sort of mindset  can lead to some pretty unpleasant results in the long term. Ignoring a problem or not wanting to know if one exists can end up causing irreversible issues, given enough time.

For these reasons, we recommend that you:

  1. Test your home’s water for Radon, if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Test your home’s air for Radon if you haven’t already done so.
  3. If either of these tests come back showing elevated levels of Radon, start doing your homework and become educated about the risks from Radon gas.

Feel free to visit our Resources page for helpful State and Federal links on Radon in both water and air).

And most importantly, if & when the time comes to install a Radon mitigation system in your home, don’t be afraid to speak with multiple companies to find one that your family feels comfortable dealing with.

Make sure the company you choose is not only licensed to mitigate Radon, but also has extensive experience doing so.

 

Photo Attributes: Image from Eneko lacasta httpwww.flickr.comphotosenekolakasta1473491270;