You may already know that smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer in the United States. But do you know what’s number two?
The answer is radon, an invisible, radioactive gas. If you didn’t know, you’re not alone. January 22-26 is Radon Awareness Week, and as such, we are sharing this very important information with you, courtesy of the CDC.
“Radon is a serious public health problem, and a lot of people don’t know about it,” says Robert Whitcomb, Ph.D., at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. He says it’s estimated to cause over 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. and that 1 out of 15 homes have dangerously high radon levels.
But many of the people living in those homes don’t have any idea, Whitcomb says. That’s not surprising because radon isn’t something you can see, unlike tobacco smoke. You can’t smell or taste it either.
“Testing your home for radon gas is the only way to know if it’s a risk,” says Whitcomb. “The good news is that it’s very easy to do.”
High radon levels can be a risk anywhere in any state. Both old homes and new homes can have radon problems. The risks from radon depend on two things:
- How much: High radon levels are more dangerous.
- How long: The more contact you have with radon gas, the greater your risk.
Testing your home is the only way to find out if you have a radon problem. The U.S. Surgeon recommends that all homes be tested for radon gas.
Radon gas forms naturally in the ground. Most radon mixes harmlessly with outdoor air, and we all breathe in low levels every day, Whitcomb says.
The problem is when radon from underground seeps into a home through cracks and gaps in the foundation and gets trapped inside. Breathing indoor air with high radon levels can — over time — damage the lungs and lead to cancer.
Why You Need to Test Your Home
Radon can really be a problem anywhere, Whitcomb says. It can be a risk in small homes and big homes, old homes and new homes.
“You can even have two almost identical houses right next to one another,” says Whitcomb. “One will have low radon levels while the other is very high. That’s why everyone needs to test.”
Fixing Radon Problems
“If you find out that you have high radon levels, it can be scary,” says Whitcomb. “But addressing the issue is often simpler than homeowners expect.”
Whitcomb says the key is to work with an expert who can help guide you. You can call your state’s radon office to get the name of someone who can offer advice.
Some radon issues need the help of a mitigation contractor — a specialist in fixing radon problems. They may use approaches like sub-slab depressurization: installing a pipe that sucks radon from the ground under the house and sends it into the outside air, where it’s harmless.
“High radon levels are a clear threat to your health,” Whitcomb says, “but the solutions are clear too. If you test your home and find out you have a problem, you can fix it.”
You can buy a testing kit online or at your local hardware store for just $10 to $20. You can also order one from the National Radon Program Services website or by calling 1-800-SOS-RADON (1-800-767-7236).
For more information on radon, please visit: https://www.cdc.gov/radon/radon-facts.html
Take care and be well,