You know about the dangers of carbon monoxide. You’ve probably seen the heartbreaking stories on the news about entire families that went to sleep at night and never woke up because of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty furnace. You may even have a detector or two in your house. But how much do you know about radon, another silent killer? How much of this highly toxic gas is in your house and how is it affecting the health of your family?
Like carbon monoxide, radon is a colorless, odorless gas responsible for far too many deaths each year, deaths that could easily be prevented. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, studies have been done showing definitive evidence of a link between radon in homes and lung cancer. In fact, as the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, radon is responsible for more than 20,000 deaths every year. That’s more than the number of deaths attributed to drunk driving, and almost 3,000 of those deaths happen to people who have never smoked.
Unlike carbon monoxide, however, you cannot monitor the level of radon in your home by sticking a detector on the wall and changing the batteries each year. The only way to know how much radon is in your home is to have a radon test. The truth is, nearly 1 of every 15 homes in the United States is estimated to have elevated radon levels. So regardless of what state or what type of home you live in, radon gas testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk. New or old construction, drafty or well-sealed, with or without a basement, it makes no difference. This known carcinogen is in the air you breathe; it’s just a question of how much is present.
Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium in soil, rock, and water. The radioactive gas is present in outdoor air and makes its way into homes through cracks in foundations and walls, construction joints, gaps in floors and around service pipes, and cavities inside walls. The EPA believes the principal source of radon in homes comes from the soil in contact with basement floors and walls. As radon moves up through the ground to the air above, it becomes trapped inside your home, where it can build up and pollute the air you breathe. Local geology, construction materials, and how the home was built are all factors that can affect the level of radon.
The good news is radon testing is easy. The EPA, the U.S. Surgeon General, and the U.N.’s World Health Organization all recommend testing your home for radon. You can test your home on your own using an inexpensive do-it-yourself radon test kit or hire a qualified radon contractor to run the test for you. While DIY tests may be susceptible to human error, a licensed radon professional can use high-pressure sampling pumps and filtered cassettes to test the ambient air in your home and then send those samples to a certified lab for further analysis. The whole process takes just a few days.
The amount of radon in the air is measured in “picocuries per liter” or “pCi/L.” On average, the radon concentration in the indoor air of America’s homes is about 1.3 pCi/L, with wide variations occurring from state to state and house to house. Any radon gas test in the area of 4 pCi/L is considered highly toxic and should be seen as a red flag for taking quick action to remedy the situation. Yet, given the uncertainty about the exact magnitude of radon risks, the EPA recommends that homeowners consider fixing their homes when the radon level is 2 pCi/L and above. Simple solutions to radon problems are available at about the same cost as other common home repairs. Contact your state radon office to find qualified radon contractors in your area.
You’d never expose your family to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Yet you and your loved ones could be at risk from radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Learn the facts surrounding this other silent killer, and take steps today to check the radon levels in your home.