Story by: Karla Simon, USAPHC
Radon is present in every geographic region in the U.S. It is found in new and older homes, schools and workplaces. It can't be smelled, tasted or seen, yet it may be the most potent carcinogen in a home.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. per year are caused by radon. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, it's the second leading cause of lung cancer. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.
Radon is mainly produced from the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock and water. It is a radioactive gas that moves through the ground to the air above. Radon becomes a problem when it seeps through cracks and holes in a building's foundation and accumulates in the basement or lower levels of a home. It is often measured in picocuries per liter.
The EPA recommends taking steps to reduce radon at confirmed levels of 4 pCi/L or higher. Levels less than 4 pCi/L still pose a risk. Radon can build to an unhealthy level during colder months when home occupants try to conserve heat by keeping windows and doors closed. Breathing these elevated levels of radon can damage the lungs.
There are several ways to protect yourself:
• Test your home. Testing is the only way to find out if radon is present. It is inexpensive and easy. The cost is about $20 to $30.
• Don't forget to test the water if it comes from groundwater, including well and municipal water. Dissolved radon can be released when water is heated and used.
• If radon is detected, fix any problems with the foundation. Seal cracks and other openings around pipes and drains.
• Cover any exposed earthen walls.
• Paint concrete floors with a sealant.
• Depending on levels of radon found after testing, have a radon reduction system installed. Consult with a professional to determine the best system dependent on the home foundation type: basement, slab-on-grade or crawlspace.
For more information about radon including how to get a test kit, go to the Environmental Protection Agency at www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/consguid.html or call the Radon Hotline at 1-800-sosradon (1-800-767-7236).