Does Radon Affect Gardening? Important Facts (+6 Practical Tips)

Kendrick Hulse

Whether you’ve just bought a house or have lived in the same place for decades, radon is something you just can’t ignore. 

Radon can build up in your home and cause lifelong health problems before you even know it’s there.

In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 15 homes in the United States contain high levels of radon.

Where does radon come from, anyway? It comes from the Earth’s soil.

So it’s only natural to wonder if this radioactive gas could be affecting your garden beds and the plants within them as well.

Good news: Radon is only dangerous indoors.

Even if your garden soil does contain radon particles, it won’t impact the health or safety of flowers, vegetables, and herbs. And it won’t affect you while you work in the garden.

But that still doesn’t mean you can ignore the risk of radon altogether!

Here’s everything you need to know about this potential danger and how to ensure your property is as safe as possible:

What Is Radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. This gas is the byproduct of radioactive metals like uranium breaking down in the earth.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Cigarette smoke is the first.

The world is full of dangerous gasses and chemicals. But what makes radon so hazardous is the fact that it is both colorless and odorless.

It’s nearly impossible to identify radon without specialized equipment. Think of radon like UV exposure.

We can’t completely eliminate our exposure to the sun’s rays — we accept this as an unavoidable part of living life.

But it’s important to take precautions against excess exposure to prevent cancer and other illnesses.

Where Does Radon Occur?

Radon is present throughout the soil, groundwater, and atmosphere.

Radon is produced within Earth’s crust but doesn’t often stay there.

Typically, the radon particles make their way to the surface and enter the air.

In some cases, radon may enter groundwater stores rather than transitioning to the atmosphere.

It’s important to note that radon gas is always present in the atmosphere in very small quantities.

The radon floating around in the atmosphere is not concentrated enough to cause notable harm.

Radon is only an issue when it collects in a small area. This is why radon levels in homes and other buildings need to be monitored. 

The radon found in homes and other buildings typically comes directly from the soil. 

Is Radon Present In the Soil?

While radon is released by radioactive compounds within the Earth’s crust, it’s rare for soil itself to contain high amounts of radon.

Since radon is a gas, it really has nowhere to go but “up.”

So rather than staying within the soil, radon gas quickly makes its way to the surface and dissipates into the air.

How Can I Measure Radon Levels?

Radon testing can be done by a professional or with an at-home kit.

This process typically relies on samples from a residential home or another building. Water can also be tested for radon.

Soil testing for radon is possible but is rarely useful in real-world scenarios.

Radon gas is most dangerous in concentrated amounts and soil offers little room for the radon particles to collect.

Can I Be Tested for Radon Exposure?

There are currently no widely accepted medical tests that check for radon exposure.

The best way to determine if you’ve been exposed to radon is to test the indoor locations you consistently spend time in.

According to the American Cancer Society, anyone who has been exposed to high levels of radon should consider getting routinely screened for lung cancer.

As with almost any cancer, early detection is one of the best possible treatment strategies for this ailment.

Does Radon Affect Plants?

There is very little research on the relationship between radon gas and plant life.

Preliminary tests show no effect on plants grown in radon-rich environments.

In highly concentrated doses, radon gas may affect plants in the same way as other radioactive elements.

But prolonged radon exposure at these levels is extremely unlikely outside of a laboratory.

Can Plants Absorb Radon?

There is no evidence that plants absorb radon particles in any meaningful quantity. 

There’s no reason to be worried about your fruit and vegetable plants absorbing radon particles from the soil or surrounding atmosphere.

Even plants grown in radon-rich areas are completely safe to eat.

Do Plants Help Reduce Radon Levels?

There’s some debate over whether plants can help lower radon levels.

The existing research suggests that this reduction is probably insignificant in terms of safety.

Radon is not able to be absorbed by plants in its original form.

Houseplants may be able to sequester harmful radon gas as it breaks down and becomes radon progeny.

Radon progeny are the particles that are inhaled and can cause respiratory illnesses like lung cancer.

How Does Radon Affect Gardening?

It generally doesn’t.

Radon is extremely dangerous when allowed to collect in a small area (like a crawl space or basement). But it quickly and safely dissipates in the outdoor air.

Nothing you do in your garden — digging, tilling, etc. — will dramatically impact the amount of radon naturally emitted by the soil. 

Just because your house or another building on your property tests high for radon does not mean your garden is unsafe.

Likewise, garden soil that tests positive for radon does not necessarily indicate that radon is present in nearby buildings.

What Are the Symptoms of Radon in Your Garden?

Even if there are high levels of radon in your garden soil, it will be impossible to know without testing.

Signs that a person has been exposed to high amounts of radon include persistent coughing, respiratory infections, and shortness of breath.

If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, they are likely the result of indoor exposure rather than high radon levels in the garden.

6 Tips for Gardeners – How to Deal With Radon

1. Focus On Your Home, Not Your Garden

Don’t stress about radon in your garden!

Instead, you should be concerned about potential radon in your home and other enclosed buildings.

Yes, it feels counterintuitive. After all, radon comes from the soil.

But that doesn’t change the fact that outdoor radon levels are completely harmless. 

2. Test Early

Although radon exposure does result in physical symptoms, it can be extremely hard to diagnose without testing the affected area.

Routine radon testing can prevent dangerous exposure within your home before the gas has a chance to wreak havoc on your lungs.

The EPA recommends that all homebuyers test for radon during the real estate process. This applies to newly built homes as well as older construction.

Unfortunately, not all areas require radon testing before selling a home.

This extra step could save you from spending time in a home with high levels of radon (and paying the health costs down the road).

3. Be Aware of Your Area’s Radon Risk

No matter the location, every building is at risk of high radon levels.

But it’s also true that some geographical areas are known to have naturally higher radon levels than others.

While we recommend regular testing regardless of location, it certainly doesn’t hurt to research your area’s average risk level.

Many different radon maps are available, covering regions like the United Kingdom, United States, and more.

Those in radon-prone locations should consider investing in more frequent or more thorough testing for extra peace of mind.

4. Don’t Overlook Other Soil Contaminants

Fretting about the possibility of radon in your garden could make you blind to more realistic risks!

Soil can contain many different contaminants that are far more likely to cause harm than radon gas.

Some common soil contaminants include lead, arsenic, mercury, and cyanide.

These compounds can occur naturally in the soil or be the result of manmade pollution.

Those living near major roadways, commercial farms, factories, and other industries should research the levels of these contaminants in their garden soil.

Keep in mind that these contaminants will remain in the soil for many years after the actual source of pollution has been removed.

5. Hire a Professional When Needed 

Radon removal (and sometimes testing) is not something you should DIY.

Doing so could mean continuing to expose you and your family to this radioactive gas.

If you perform an at-home test and are concerned about the results, professional testing should be performed as well.

Ideally, the building should be vacated until further testing and reduction techniques are employed. 

Eliminating radon is more about preventing new radon from building up in the area than it is about removing the existing radon gas.

There are many different radon mitigation systems to choose from — a professional contractor will know which option is best for your situation!

6. Take Precautions in Outbuildings

An open-air garden is not going to contain dangerous concentrations of radon gas.

The same isn’t necessarily true of outbuildings like sheds, garages, and even greenhouses.

Proper ventilation can prevent radon from collecting within these enclosed spaces. But testing should still be performed as an extra precaution.

The good news is that even the most avid gardener spends less time in their shed or private greenhouse than they do in their home.

If you live somewhere with consistently high radon levels, consider investing in radon-preventative construction.

These techniques are commonly used when building homes but can also be adapted to suit smaller buildings like sheds and garages.

Conclusion

The knowledge that radon gas comes from the soil can be anxiety-inducing, especially for those of us who spend hours digging and planting in our gardens each week.

But you shouldn’t let this new information scare you away from playing in the dirt!

Radon is a serious issue in many indoor spaces.

Outdoors, however, this radioactive gas dissipates into the atmosphere as soon as it leaves the ground.

While you don’t need to worry about radon levels in your garden, you should take this opportunity to ensure your home’s radon testing is up to date.

Don’t forget to test your garage, shed, or greenhouse while you’re at it.

Radon mitigation can be installed in any home. But you still need to know the radon particles are there before the issue can be fixed!

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