The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared January National Radon Action Month. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and it is estimated to cause 21,000 deaths each year. During this time, local health departments are encouraged to raise awareness about radon exposure in their communities, and promote radon testing in homes, schools, and other buildings.
Radon is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that can be found in homes and buildings all across the country. It develops naturally from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon is found outdoors in harmless amounts, but in buildings built on natural uranium deposits, it can become trapped and concentrate in dangerous levels. Radon typically moves up through the ground and into the home through cracks and holes in the foundation. EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels. And because radon exposure causes no immediate symptoms, in many cases people don’t discover their home has a problem until serious health problems have surfaced.
In addition to lung cancer, long-term radon exposure can cause emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic interstitial pneumonia, silicosis, and respiratory lesions. Moreover, radon poses an increased danger to smokers, as it compounds the heightened risk they already face. Children may also face increased risk from radon exposure due to their higher respiration rate and ever-changing bodies.
The only way to know if radon is a problem in a home or building is to test for it. EPA recommends testing all homes that haven’t been tested in the past two years, including those built “radon-resistant,” and testing in schools. Testing is inexpensive and takes only a few minutes; homeowners can hire a qualified radon test company or purchase a do-it-yourself kit. Most local health departments and state radon centers make kits available to their communities. If a home or building is found to have high levels of radon present, a number of solutions are available, including: soil suction methods; sealing cracks in the floors and walls; and altering ventilation.
During National Radon Action Month, local health departments should educate their communities on the risk radon poses by attending or hosting a radon informational event; submitting an op/ed or letter to the editor to the local newspaper; pitching radon news stories to the local media; working with city government to issue local proclamations; and distributing brochures and pamphlets. Local health departments should also engage community members in information and activities related to smoking cessation. Radon is one of the most common environmental health threats people face, but with the right monitoring and prevention steps, one of the easiest to prevent.
For more information in National Radon Action Month and Radon Awareness: