Smarter Living: Family Health

Radon is surprisingly dangerous stuff, and yet most people don't think about it because it has no smell and it occurs naturally (it comes from certain types of rock formations underground). Yet radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second-leading cause of lung cancer overall. U.S. EPA estimates that about 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. are radon-related and both the EPA and Surgeon General recommend testing all residences, except multiresidences above the second story.. So it's important for people to test their houses and to address the problem if it exists. The EPA recommends that homeowners take steps to reduce radon levels if readings exceed 2–4 pCi/L because of an increased risk of lung cancer. If you keep your windows closed a lot, act on any radon levels over 2 pCi/L.  

Test kits can be bought inexpensively at your local hardware store or on line. The EPA recommends that you start witha short-term test (lasting 2 to 90 days) and if the results are 4 pCi/L or greater you should conduct follow-up testing. For initial results between 4 and 10 pCi/L, a follow-up long term test of greater than 90 days is recommended. If the iitial result is greater than 10 pCi/L, a second short term test is recommended. Because radon levels can fluctuate throughout the year, a long-term test (lasting 90 to 365 days) is a more reliable measure of exposure. (However, if your first short-term test result is more than twice EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should take a second short-term test immediately).

If two tests confirm that you have elevated levels call a state-certified radon contractor. You can contact your state radon office or the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB) to find local contractors. There are several ways to reduce radon in your home, but the most common is a fan and vent pipe system, which pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. The cost of reducing radon in your home depends on how your home was built and the extent of the radon problem. It may be as simple as patching cracks in your foundation and floors. 
Not everyone exposed to elevated levels of radon will develop lung cancer, and for those who do, the amount of time between exposure and the onset of the disease may be many years. Your risk of eventually getting lung cancer from radon depends mostly on how much radon is in your house, how much time you spend at home and whether you are a smoker or have ever been one. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high. That's another good reason to quit! 
You can learn more by reading the EPA's Citizen's Guide to Radon and its Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction.

last revised 2/1/2012

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