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Radon: The Little Known Health Hazard

Radon is a radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. It occurs naturally from the breakdown of uranium inside the earth, and outdoors it’s dispersed in the air without any harmful effects. However, when it’s trapped inside a building, it can lead to health problems. If high levels of radon are trapped in your home, your entire family could become sick.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s Office have estimated that 20,000 lung cancer deaths are caused each year by radon. In fact, it is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that are trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As these particles continue to break down, they release small bursts of energy, which damage lung tissue and lead to lung cancer. Radon-induced lung cancer costs the United States over $2 billion dollars per year in both direct and indirect health care costs.

According to the EPA, one in 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels over 4 pCi/L, the EPA’s recommended action level for radon exposure. A family whose home has radon levels of 4 pCi/l is exposed to approximately 35 times as much radiation as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would allow if that family were standing next to the fence of a radioactive waste site.

Radon is more concentrated in the lower levels of a home like basements and ground floors. You don’t know if you have a problem unless you test. Radon test kits that meet EPA requirements are available at local hardware stores and home improvement stores, and typically cost less than $25. If the test indicates dangerous levels of radon in a home, you need to correct the problem immediately.

The National Safety Council, a non-profit organization, operates the Radon Fix-It Program to provide information to consumers with radon levels of 4 pCi/L or higher. The service is free of charge.

Consumers who call the agency’s toll free number (800) 644-6999, can speak to operators who will provide referrals to technical experts in their state, information on reducing elevated radon levels, guidelines for choosing a test kit or a testing company, and information about testing in connection with a real estate transaction. They also provide lists of contractors certified by the National Environmental Health Association and/or the National Radon Safety Board who are qualified to offer advice and perform radon mitigation.

In addition to the National Safety Council, consumers can obtain general information about radon by logging on to EPA’s website at http://www.epa.gov/radon.