Know your carcinogens: Radon



Resource post for February

January was National Radon Action Month. I must apologize for missing that opportunity to post something on radon. However, it is never too late to take action against radon, any day, any month, anytime of the year.

But what is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless -and is carcinogenic. This means you can’t really know it is there but this carcinogen is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in America and claims the lives of about 20,000 Americans each year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Radon is released when uranium, a naturally-existing radioactive chemical in soil, rocks and water decays naturally and gets into the air we breathe. The link between lung cancer and radon was first observed in miners who were exposed to the gas underground. However, high amounts of radon can also be found above the ground. A radon concentration level of 4 pCi/L is considered to be hazardous to our health.

How do you get exposed to radon?

Radon exposure can happen anywhere – in offices, schools, and yes – at home. And because home is where people spend most of their time, that is also the place where radon exposure is the greatest. The closer a room is to the ground, the higher is the risk for radon to seep inside. That is why the EPA and the Surgeon General recommend that all homes below the third floor should be tested for radon. Basements are especially at risk.

Radon also occurs in ground water, such as wells and water supplies using ground water. However, research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.

Radon is found in all 50 states of the US but with varying levels. The EPA has a map showing radon potential zones. You can check out the potential radon levels of your state in the EPA site.

How do you check for the presence of radon in your home?

Unless you test for it, there is no way of telling how much radon is present in a building. The EPA recommends that each home be tested for radon. Radon test kits are available commercially and are usually easy to use. Radon testing can be done two ways, namely:

What happens if your home tests positive for radon?

The EPA recommends that a short-term test be performed first. If the radon levels is 4 pCi/L or more, then a second short-term test or a long-term term test is necessary. If subsequent tests show persistent high levels of radon, it doesn’t mean to say that the house is completely worthless and unliveable. There are radon reduction systems which can reduce radon levels in a building to acceptable levels, even up to 99%. The most common method is some of a ventilator pipe and fan system which sucks out the radon from the building and releases it outside. It also helps to seal cracks in the floor and walls and other opening where radon can possibly seep through. Other systems, however, may be necessary depending on the structure and design of the house.

Even if the radon levels in your home have been successful reduced to acceptable levels, it is advisable to test for radon before buying or renting a home or building to avoid radon problems.

National Radon Action Month

The EPA has recommended four things you can do during National Radon Action Month which are however valid anytime of the year.

The International Radon Project

Radon testing is common in the US and other developed countries but not in many other parts of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) launched the International Radon Project in 2005. Through a network of partner agencies of member countries, WHO will “collect and analyse information on radon risk, radon policies, radon mitigation and prevention as well as risk communication.”

For more information about radon, check out the following links:

Picture credits: EPA, International Radon Project, Stock.xchng

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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