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Radon levels have increased in heavily drilled areas

News stories broke through numerous media outlets in early April 2015 related to a new study indicating increased radon levels in Pennsylvania homes located near fracking. The study "Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 19892013" by Joan A. Casey, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, Sara G. Rasmussen, Jennifer K. Irving, Jonathan Pollak, Paul A. Locke, and Brian S. Schwartz was published in Environmental Health Perspectives and provided in this 32-page PDF.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer worldwide and most indoor exposure occurs by diffusion of soil gas.

Pennsylvania radon map

What the colors mean:

Red Counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) Highest Potential
Orange Counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level between 2 and 4 pCi/L Moderate Potential
Yellow Counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level less than 2 pCi/L Low Potential

The study used first floor and basement indoor radon results reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection between 1987-2013, and evaluated associations of radon concentrations with geology, water source, building characteristics, season, weather, community socioeconomic status, community type and unconventional natural gas development measures based on drilled and producing wells.

West Virginia radon map

Source: CDC

The EPA recommends the following testing steps:

Step 1. Take a short-term test. If your result is 4 pCi/L or higher, take a follow-up test (Step 2) to be sure.

Step 2. Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test.

Step 3. If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more. If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home.



The study found that basement radon concentrations fluctuated between 1987-2003, but began an upward trend from 2004-2012 in all county categories, with higher levels in counties with over one hundred drilled wells vs. counties with no wells.

Ohio radon map

Study conclusions included these:
  • Well water may contribute more to indoor radon than previously thought.
  • There has also been a general rise in concentrations since 2006.
  • The measurements of the Pa. TENORM study should be periodically repeated
  • Future studies of building radon levels include more information about buildings
  • Continuing need for a radon program in Pa. to track and evaluate radon
  • Radon exposure represents a major environmental health risk



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