This report summarizes the radon potential of Montgomery County in the context of its geology. Radon is a naturally occurring gas produced by the radioactive decay of uranium. Radon produced by uraniferous rocks and soils may enter a house through porous building materials and through openings in walls and floors. Radon gases has a tendency to move from the higher pressure commonly existing in the soil to the lower pressure commonly existing in the house. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA, 1986a) estimates that elevated levels of indoor radon may be associated with 5,000 to 20,000 of the 130,000 lung cancer deaths per year. They also estimate that 8 to 12 percent of the homes in the United States will have annual average indoor radon levels exceeding 4 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Above this level, the U.S. EPA recommends homeowners take remedial action. May factors control the amount of radon which may enter a home from the geologic environment. Soil drainage, permeability, and moisture content effect the amount of radon that can be released from rocks and soils (known as the emmanation) and may limit or increase how far it can migrate. Well drained, highly permeable soils facilitate the movement of radon. Soils with water content in the 8 to 15 percent range enhance the emmanation of radon (Lindmark, 1985). Daily and seasonal variations in soil and indoor radon can be caused by meteorologic factors such as barometric pressure, temperature, and wind (Clements and Wilkening, 1974; Schery and other, 1984). Construction practices also inhibit or promote entry of radon into the home (U.S. EPA, 1986b). In general, however, geology controls the source and distribution of radon (Akerblom and Wilson, 1982; Gundersen and others, 1987, 1988; Sextro and others, 1987; U.S. EPA, 1983; Peake, 1988; Peake and Hess, 1988). The following sections describe: 1) the methods used to measure radon and equivalent uranium (eU) in soil; 2) the radon potential ratings that were developed for this study; and 3) the characteristics of the rocks and soils in Montgomery County that give them their radon potential.
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USGS Numbered Series
Map showing radon potential of rocks and soils in Montgomery County, Maryland