Predictors of indoor radon concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989-2013

Joan A. Casey, Elizabeth L. Ogburn, Sara G. Rasmussen, Jennifer K. Irving, Jonathan Pollak, Paul A. Locke, Brian S. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Background: Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer worldwide. Most indoor exposure occurs by diffusion of soil gas. Radon is also found in well water, natural gas, and ambient air. Pennsylvania has high indoor radon concentrations; buildings are often tested during real estate transactions, with results reported to the Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP). Objectives: We evaluated predictors of indoor radon concentrations. Methods: Using first-floor and basement indoor radon results reported to the PADEP between 1987 and 2013, we evaluated associations of radon concentrations (natural log transformed) with geology, water source, building characteristics, season, weather, community socioeconomic status, community type, and unconventional natural gas development measures based on drilled and producing wells. Results: Primary analysis included 866,735 first measurements by building, with the large majority from homes. The geologic rock layer on which the building sat was strongly associated with radon concentration (e.g., Axemann Formation, median = 365 Bq/m3, IQR = 167-679 vs. Stockton Formation, median = 93 Bq/m3, IQR = 52-178). In adjusted analysis, buildings using well water had 21% higher concentrations (β = 0.191, 95% CI: 0.184, 0.198). Buildings in cities (vs. townships) had lower concentrations (β = -0.323, 95% CI: -0.333, -0.314). When we included multiple tests per building, concentrations declined with repeated measurements over time. Between 2005 and 2013, 7,469 unconventional wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. Basement radon concentrations fluctuated between 1987 and 2003, but began an upward trend from 2004 to 2012 in all county categories (p < 0.001), with higher levels in counties having ≥ 100 drilled wells versus counties with none, and with highest levels in the Reading Prong. Conclusions: Geologic unit, well water, community, weather, and unconventional natural gas development were associated with indoor radon concentrations. Future studies should include direct environmental measurement of radon, as well as building features unavailable for this analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1130-1137
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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