Radon: Second Cause of Lung Cancer

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Radon is a gas produced during the decay of radioactive materials. It is an invisible, odorless gas produced by the normal breakdown of uranium in the soil, which is found both indoors and outdoors.  Long-term exposure to radon increases the risk of certain cancers, especially lung cancer. It is important to be aware of the close correlation between radon and the development of lung cancer.

To put the risk of radon in perspective, the EPA has a chart in which they compare the risk of radon to other risks. At a level of 4 pCi/L, the risk that non-smokers will develop lung cancer is about the same as the risk of dying in a car crash. For smokers, exposure to radon is of even greater concern. At a radon level of 4 pCi/L, the risk of developing lung cancer is 5 times the risk of dying in a car crash.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office have estimated that as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon.  Although some areas of the U.S. have higher levels of radon than other areas, increased levels have been found in homes in all 50 states, and around the world.  At the present time, it is estimated that 1 out of 15 homes in the United States have elevated radon levels.

Radon testing, a measurement done to detect the presence of radon gas in our homes, could theoretically prevent 20,000 deaths from lung cancer each year in the United States. Thankfully, if elevated radon levels are detected and repaired, this cause of lung cancer is entirely preventable.  Furthermore, radon testing is easy and inexpensive.

Since radon is an odorless, colorless gas, the only way to know if levels are abnormal in your home is through testing. The EPA recommends that every home in the United States be tested for radon. In the past, some people thought that homes without basements were not at risk, but this is not the case. Any living area below the 3rd floor of a building should be tested.

The EPA recommends fixing your home if the radon level is above 4 pCi/L. They also state that individuals should consider repairs if the level falls between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.  Exposure to radon in homes is the 2nd leading cause of lung cancer, and the number one cause in non-smokers.

 Radon testing is the only way to know your home’s radon levels. There are no immediate symptoms that will alert you to the presence of radon. Also, it typically takes years of exposure before any problems surface.
For a short-term test:
  • Test for radon in the lowest level of your home where people spend time. If you use part of your basement for living space, like a playroom, test there. If you only use your basement for storage, test the first floor.
  • You can buy test kits at home improvement stores, hardware stores, or online. To order a test kit over the phone, call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON (1-800-767-7236).
  • If your home has a radon level of 4 or higher, it’s time to take action. There is no safe level of radon, so you may still want to fix your home if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

If the radon level in your home is 4 or higher after testing, test your home again. The radon level in your home can change.  A long-term test is the best way to know what the radon level is over time.

If two radon test kits show that the radon level in your home is 4 or higher, make a plan to fix your home by hiring a qualified contractor for removal. You may also want to take action if the radon level is between 2 and 4.

For more information about radon, The National Radon Program Services at Kansas State University is funded by the EPA and aimed at promoting public awareness of radon, increased testing, and the reduction of radon in homes, schools, and buildings. It provides a variety of resources, including the National Radon Hotlines, referrals to state radon programs, radon test kit orders, radon mitigation promotion, and other technical assistance and outreach activities.

 

 Remember the Health Power motto: Knowledge + Action = Power!
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