General Radon Information

Tennessee specific radon and radon level information can be found throughout this site. You will be able to find information about certified radon inspectors in Tennessee, as well as detailed radon level information for every county in Tennessee.

What is radon? Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in most rocks and soil. It is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Radon is harmlessly dispersed in outdoor air, but when trapped in buildings can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially at elevated levels. It typically enters a home the same way air and other soil gases enter the home, through cracks in the foundation, floor or walls, hollow-block walls, and openings around pipes, sump pumps, and floor drains. It can also be present in some construction materials and in water from underground sources including private wells. Any home, regardless of age, energy-efficiency, or foundation type, could have a radon problem.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation operates a statewide indoor radon abatement program as a part of the Division of Air Pollution Control. When the issue of radon first gained national attention in the early eighties, Tennessee immediately responded by establishing this statewide program. Originally, the function of the program was to educate, assist, and conduct outreach on the health hazard of radon and the various issues associated with that hazard. That was over fifteen years ago and the program's function has changed and expanded considerably.

Today the radon program is still a statewide program. Outreach, education and assistance are still its primary functions. In addition, the program sponsors and conducts consistent and professional radon training in the areas of measurement, mitigation, schools testing and mitigation. It conducts scientific research on radon in Tennessee and how it relates to geology.

Radon was first recognized as an indoor environmental health concern in the mid-1980s. Why not before? There are probably several reasons, some of which are as follows:

First, no one measured radon in houses before the mid-1980's so it is unknown what role it may have played in lung-related illnesses. Also, there was a generic grouping of respiratory illnesses, many of which may have been cancers, some of which may have been radon-related. Second, in the past, homes were draftier and one might expect that radon concentrations were diluted. Also, a larger portion of the population was involved in agricultural pursuits that allowed for less time to be spent indoors. Third, after a cell is damaged in a manner that starts it on the road to lung cancer it may take several years before the consequences of that process become evident. In the past, the national average life expectancy was shorter than it is today. In the past 100 years the average life expectancy of a child who reached the age of ten has increased about 17 years. One of the consequences of this extended lifespan is that there is now more time to incur the necessary cellular damage and more time for a cancer that initiates later in life and develops slowly to become enough of a problem to be detected and ultimately be the cause of death.

Radon is a serious problem in Tennessee and every home should be tested. There are no exceptions! When you consider the health risk associated with radon and the fact that each year radon related lung cancer kills approximately 20,000 people, the significance of this information and action is clear.

If elevated levels of radon are discovered in your home, you should mitigate, which will lead to the reduction of levels of radon in buildings such that the levels in are as free of radon as the ambient air outside of buildings

For those who are building new homes, radon-resistant building techniques should be used. It is much more cost effective to prevent radon problems than it is to correct them in the future. For $350 to $500, on average, your builder can take the following four simple steps to deter radon from entering your home.

* Install a layer of clean gravel or aggregate beneath the slab or flooring system.

* Lay polyethylene sheeting on top of the gravel layer.

* Include a gas-tight venting pipe from the gravel level through the building to the roof.

* Seal and caulk the foundation thoroughly.

These construction techniques will be familiar to your builder. There is no need to hire a special contractor or architect. Many builders already incorporate some of these steps in the construction of their houses to control moisture or increase energy efficiency. In fact, radon-resistant construction techniques can be found in the 1995 version of the One-and-Two Family Dwelling Code published by the Council of American Building Officials.