Radon in New Mexico
Radon is a radioactive colorless,odorless, and tasteless gas that is a daughter-product of the radioactive decay chains of both uranium and thorium. Radon is chemically inert, so it doesn't bind or otherwise react with other materials as it seeps out of the ground. Most radon is diffused into the atmosphere and poses no risk, but it can get trapped and concentrated in dwellings. It is somewhat soluble in cold water and can also be transported indoors via well water. Radon is thought to be the largest contributer to lung cancer in the non-smoking populaton, but smoking amplifies that risk considerably.
Many areas in New Mexico are underlain by rocks that produce radon at levels above the 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air) EPA limit. Most of the areas elevated with elevated risk are in the North-Central part of the state, but risk is variable depending of local site conditions. The only way to know for sure what the cancer risk from radon is in a particular home is to have it tested. There are mail-in test-kits available as well as professional testing services available. If high levels of radon are detected, often simple and inexpensive strategies, like sealing cracks in floors and foundations, can help considerably.
Below are some resources regarding radon and radon risk mitigation:
- NM Environment Department: Indoor Radon Outreach Program
- US Environmental Protection Agency: Radon
- McLemore, Virginia T.; Hawley, John W., 1988, Preliminary geologic evaluation of radon availability in New Mexico, New Mexico Bureau Mines Mineral Resources, Open-file Report, v. 0345, pp. 1-31.