The No. 1 cause of lung cancer outside of smoking is a radioactive gas, radon, that everyone breathes in every day, usually at low levels. You cannot see, smell or touch radon but it can be dangerous.
Scientists estimate 20,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year are related to radon.
Radon is produced from a natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. This radioactive gas can be detected in homes, offices and schools; it enters buildings through cracks in floors and walls, construction joints or gaps around service pipes, electrical wires and sump pits.
Are You at Risk?
The Environmental Protection Agency reports elevated levels of radon gas have been measured in every state and estimates nearly one out of every 15 homes in America has elevated radon levels.
People who breathe in radioactive particles, swallow water with high radon levels or are exposed to radon for a long period of time are susceptible to lung damage and lung cancer. Smokers who are exposed to elevated levels of radon gas have a 10 times higher risk of developing lung cancer according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control.
When radon exceeds acceptable levels, the result can be deadly. It may take years before the health problems appear.
Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:
- How much radon is in your home – the location where you spend most of your time (e.g., the main living and sleeping areas)
- The amount of time you spend in your home
- Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked
Test Your Home for Radon Gas Exposure
Old homes, new homes, home with basements and homes without basements can have radon problems. Testing is the only way to determine how much radon is present in your home.
Consider hiring a professional tester. Short-term (2-90 day) and long-term (more than 90-day) test kits are available, with the long-term kit producing more accurate results.
Find a radon test kit or measurement and mitigation professional near you on the EPA website.
Do-it-yourself test kits also are available at many local hardware stores.
No level of radon exposure is considered completely safe, however the EPA only recommends reducing radon levels in your home if your long-term exposure averages 4 picocuries per liter (pCI/L) or higher. A pCI is a measure of the rate of radioactive decay of radon gas. This decay causes radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe.
Reducing Radon Gas in Your Home
The American Cancer Society says a variety of methods can be used to reduce radon gas levels in your home, including sealing cracks in floors and walls and increasing ventilation though sub-slab depressurization using pipes and fans.
The EPA recommends using a state or nationally certified contractor because lowering high radon levels often requires technical expertise and special skills. Two agencies have set the standard for participants seeking certification:
- The American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists
- National Radon Safety Board
Always test again after finishing to make certain you have fixed the radon problem.
January is National Radon Action Month
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated January as National Radon Action Month, a time when health agencies across the country urge all Americans to have their homes tested for radon.