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According to the Surgeon General, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States-second only to smoking. For non-smokers it ranks number one. You may not realize it, but you and your family are likely to get your greatest exposure to radon at home. In fact, the EPA estimates that 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S has elevated levels of radon. Is yours one of them?
The highest levels of radon tend to be found in the lower levels of your home and can vary according to the season. This is because in certain climates, the lowest parts of the home tend to operate under negative pressure-especially during the heating season. This negative pressure creates a vacuum that acts to draw radon into the home. This vacuum can be caused by heated air rising; fireplaces, woodstoves and furnaces; air vented to the outside (clothes dryers, exhaust fans); or downwind drafts created as wind blows past your house. Upper levels of the home also tend to have a greater volume of diluted air due to open windows and doors, especially in warmer seasons.
Even if your neighbors have tested their homes, it's not a good idea to rely on their results. Everyone's home is different in local soil, construction techniques and maintenance. Also keep in mind that testing radon levels once doesn't mean you're protected from high radon level in the future. Radon levels may change over time due to things like remodeling or changes that are made to your home's heating, air-conditioning or ventilation systems. If you're building a new home, make sure to ask your builder about including radon-resistant construction features. Because radon is not regulated in many states, it's up to individual homeowners to reduce the risks to their families.
Radon (Rn) is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas. Radon is produced when trace amounts of uranium and radium in the soil or rocks decay. The radon gas will then also decay into radioactive solid particles, called radon daughters or radon progenitors. Some of the short-lived radon daughters attach themselves to small particles in the air, which can be inhaled deep into the lungs. The radon daughters may then damage dividing lung cells, possibly resulting in lung cancer. Radon gas is thought to be responsible for 5,000 to 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States.
The major sources of radon are: soil that contains radon-releasing material; water and natural gas that has passed through underground areas containing radon; solar-heating systems that use radon-emitting rocks to store heat; granite rock; and uranium or phosphate mine tailings.
Out-of-doors, radon poses little threat to our health because it is in such a low concentration. Indoors, however, radon can become more concentrated because of the lack of ventilation in homes combined with exhaust fans that draw air. Radon gas can seep into a house through dirt floors, cracks in concrete floors and walls, floor drains, sump pumps, and joints. Radon gas can also accumulate in private wells and be released into the home when water is used. This is normally not a problem for large community water supplies. The level of radon that can build up indoors depends upon the amount of radon in the source material and the rate at which it is removed from the home by ventilation. Homes tested throughout the U.S. show a wide range of radon concentrations.
These quick, inexpensive steps advised by the EPA can be taken to help lower your risks from radon exposure:
Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home; it may increase the risk of radon exposure.
Spend less time in areas with higher concentrations of radon, such as the basement.
Whenever practical, increase the airflow into and through your house, especially in the basement.
If you home has a crawl space beneath, keep the vents on all sides of the house fully open all year.
There are two commercially-available radon detectors, the charcoal canister and the alpha-track detector. Both of these are exposed to the air in your home for a specific time period and sent to a laboratory for analysis. For additional information about radon, contact the American Lung Association.
This information comes from the Guide to Hazardous Products Around the Home, part of the HouseHold Hazardous Waste Project in Missouri.
Source: MSU Extension