Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally-occurring radioactive gas that may threaten health in high concentration. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. Any home in any community may have elevated levels of radon, even if other homes in the neighborhood do not. Testing for radon is simple and inexpensive. Once a radon problem has been identified, it can be fixed.
Radon is formed by the breakdown of natural uranium in rocks and soil. In the open air, radon is so highly diluted that it poses no danger. When it seeps into homes, it becomes trapped and can build to levels of concern. As much as 55 percent of the radiation that people acquire over their lives comes from breathing in radon gas. The risk of developing lung cancer from exposure to radon depends upon the concentration of radon and the length of time you are exposed. Smokers increase this risk 10-fold. Most radon-related health issues are caused from radon that circulates in the air. Wells can also be tested for radon, although this is a less common source of health-related issues. If your home tests high for radon, you might consider having your water tested.
Any home can have a radon problem. Most radon enters homes through ground level openings such as pipes, drains, and foundation cracks. Most homes contain radon in the air. But the concentration of radon in the air varies greatly from insignificant to hazardous levels of contamination. The only sure way of knowing if your home contains excessive levels of radon is to TEST for radon.
Test for radon in the lowest level of your home containing a living area. (You don’t need to test basements that are not used as a living area.) Most hardware and building supply stores sell testing kits. Be sure the kit is EPA certified. Short-term tests take air sample from two to 90 days. A lab then analyzes the air sample and forwards the results to you. There are also longer-term tests. There are private companies that will conduct these types of radon tests.
If your home contains radon, cover and seal basement drains, pipes, and cracks. Because some entry points can be missed, retest immediately. Even if no radon is detected, retest every few years. (Entry points may open over time). A contractor can install a venting pipe system that will draw radon from under the house and direct it back into the outside air.
There is also a National Radon Hotline at 1-800-767-7236. Radon literature also is available on the Internet at these sites: www.epa.gov/radon/pubs or www.ct.gov/dph/radon
V. Deborah Culligan, BSN, MPH is coordinator of Health Education Programs/deputy director of the Quinnipiack Valley Health District.