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Indoors, Radon Stands Out

2014 January 6

By Henry Slack

For the past twenty years, I’ve helped EPA fix indoor air pollution problems. Mold, odors, air cleaners, sick buildings, you name it – I’ve helped people learn how to manage these problems in their homes. The key thing I’ve learned: the most insidious indoor air pollutant is radon.

Radon is hidden and dangerous. We can’t see or smell it. The only way to know it’s around is to test for it. Did you know that radon in homes first drew concern as a public health threat after a worker at a nuclear power plant started setting off the plant’s radiation alarms? His home’s radon level was so high, he was carrying radiation into the plant. Yet he had no clue his home was radioactive before the testing started. The old proverb “out of sight, out of mind” holds true.

Radon causes lung cancer, second only to smoking as the leading cause. It leads to an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Some of my relatives have had cancer; it’s serious. The good news, however, is that radon-induced lung cancer (like smoking) can be prevented. Testing your home and taking corrective actions to reduce high levels is easy, cheap, and local resources are available to help.

EPA has been talking about the dangers of radon for decades. Lately, the group Cancer Survivors Against Radon (CanSAR) has joined the effort to raise awareness and help people take action to reduce their risk. Members share their personal stories about how high the radon levels were in their home, how they or a loved one battled against the disease, and how they want others to test for radon. Their goal: no one else having to watch someone they care about get sick and die of lung cancer.
Radon deaths are completely preventable. Please test your home, and fix it if you have a problem. Thank you.

About the author: Henry Slack from EPA’s Atlanta regional office has taught and helped people in the southeast with indoor air problems for more than 20 years.  His study of chemistry (B.S.) and mechanical engineering (M.S.) give him a strong background in the field, and he is active with the U.S. Green Building Council and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).     

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Israel Tuoeg permalink
    January 8, 2014

    Great Article! Indoor Air Quality is very important. Radon is a big Issue bust so is Mold.
    This Website Covers more aspects of Indoor Air Quality and Removing Mold from your Home!

  2. Bouchakour permalink
    January 9, 2014

    What is positive and interesting is that always ends by learning from our bad experiences
    Radon is not the only element prohibited, the lamiante is also.

  3. Chuck Elkins permalink
    January 9, 2014

    I agree with the seriousness of this issue. However, it appears that EPA has not revisited the 4 pico curies standard for radon since it was established decades ago. I personally was involved in deciding on that number when I worked at EPA, and I can tell you that I was told that it was equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes and the only reason we established such a high number (in a publication, not as a standard) was because EPA’s Office of Research and Development told us that they could not assure us, after only 1 year of engineering research on homes, that a more stringent level was technically achievable. I would hope that the engineering has improved considerably after all those years and that EPA could establish a more health-protective level. Of course, I have not kept track of the health research on radon, and if, by chance, the risk of radon exposure has decreased significantly because of advances in our understanding, than the level of 4 may still be justifiable. In any case, it would make sense for EPA to revisit this number and assure the American public that in abating to a level of 4, they are in fact protecting themselves from a serious risk of getting cancer.

  4. Chuck Elkins permalink
    January 9, 2014

    In writing the above comment, I was not clear that I meant a pack of cigarettes PER DAY.

  5. Maria Mincey permalink
    February 12, 2014

    Great Article! Thanks for sharing……

    Best Regards
    Maria Mincey

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