January has been declared, National Radon Action Month according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Exposure to radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. It is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. If you smoke and have exposure to radon, it increases the likelihood of dying from lung cancer.
Two Rivers Public Health Department Wellness and Environmental Coordinator, Heather Easton explains what radon really is.
“Radon comes from the breakdown of the uranium that is in the soil,” said Easton. “Nebraska has a lot of it deep down in our soil. We build our houses on it and that’s how the gas comes into our houses from the little cracks in the rocks and house.”
As radon decays, it produces solids that “stick” to surfaces, such as dust in the air. If this dust is inhaled, these particles can stick to the airways of the lungs and cause lung cancer.
“You can not see it, you can not smell it and you can not taste it. If you have radon in your house, you will not know it. A lot of times people think they have respiratory problems related to radon, but that’s not true. The only way you know you have radon is if you test your house or are diagnosed with lung cancer.”
The average outdoor level of radon is very small. However, radon can build up to dangerous levels inside our homes, especially in crawl spaces and basements. It can spread throughout the house by the heating and cooling systems. Because radon is heavier than air, opening the windows or living in a drafty house does NOT decrease the level of exposure, and in some cases, can make it worse.
Did you know that one out of every two radon tests conducted in Nebraska show high radon levels? The U.S. Surgeon General and EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommend that ALL homes be tested for radon. The EPA also recommends installing radon reduction systems in homes with radon levels at or above 4pCi/L (picocuries per liter).
Easton said if a house does have radon, the process is very simple to rid of the gas.
“Radon mitigation is fairly inexpensive. Usually the mitigation system is just a ventilation system with a fan that we vent to the outside. The price range is around $1,500 and I know that sounds like a lot of money to some people, but it costs less than dealing with lung cancer.”
Testing and protecting your home is quite easy. Test kits that you can do yourself are available at local hardware stores, home centers, and Two Rivers Public Health Department. Two Rivers also has a certified radon measurement specialist if you want to have a professional do these tests for you for a fee. Homes should be tested every few years, even if a radon reduction system is in place.
For more information or to purchase a radon test kit for $6, contact Two Rivers Public Health Department at 1-888-669-7154 or 995-4778.