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Since 1984, indoor radon has gained national attention as a significant health hazard in the United States. Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas derived from uranium by radioactive decay. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now projects that 5,000 to 20,000 lung-cancer deaths per year may be attributed to the long-term exposure to indoor radon and its radioactive decay products. Indoor radon has been previously recognized as a health hazard associated with uranium-bearing mill tailings or building materials, but it was not until December 1984 that some natural soils and rocks were found to be sources of indoor radon at levels comparable to those in uranium mines. It is now suspected that elevated indoor radon levels are far more widespread than initially though. The EPA considers 4 picoCuries of radon per liter of air (pCi/L) as the level (in a year-round measurement) at which actions ought to be taken to lower the concentration of indoor radon. All soils and rocks contain measurable amounts of uranium, which generate measurable amounts of radon. Certain soils and rocks, however, have a greater potential to cause indoor radon problems than others because (1) they have a higher uranium content and thus can generate higher levels of radon in soil gas (gas that occupies the pores of the soil), and (2) the permeability of the sol or rack is sufficiently high that radon-bearing soil gas can flow freely and move indoors through the foundation of the structure. This study was designed to demonstrate the correlation between the geologic environment and indoor radon levels and to demonstrate a method of assessment that could be used by other informed workers in areas of their interest. A parallel study by Gundersen and others (1988) of the radon potential of rocks and soils in Montgomery County, Md., used somewhat different methods of assessment because the data available for and assessment of Montgomery County differed.
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Map showing radon potential of rocks and soils in Fairfax County, Virginia