If you’re like most people that make New Year’s resolutions, you’re probably trying to start the year off on the right foot by doing things to improve your health. Just go to nearly any gym during the first few weeks of January and you’ll see what I mean! Whether or not you resolved to be healthier in 2014, there is one easy-to-do step that you can take to protect the health of you and your family: test your home for radon.
Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of natural uranium deposits in soil and it can seep into homes through their foundation. High levels have been found in homes all across the country. EPA estimates that one in fifteen U.S. homes has elevated radon levels – but in some areas, the number can be as high as one out of every two.
And why is radon a health issue? Because it can be deadly. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Only smoking causes more. EPA estimates that about 21,000 people die from radon-induced lung cancer each year. It’s a very serious problem, but luckily there are simple solutions.
January is National Radon Action Month, and it is a great time to test your home. During the winter months, windows and doors are kept closed more than at other times of the year. This leads to test results that are closer to your home’s maximum levels; letting you and your family know if you are at elevated risk. Do-It-Yourself radon test kits are available online and at most major hardware stores. You can also contact your state radon office for more testing assistance (for a list, go to epa.gov/radon) or call 1-800-SOS-Radon. Certified radon professionals can also perform accurate and reliable radon tests.
If you find high levels, fixing the problem is straightforward and costs about as much as most common home repairs. A contractor that is certified in radon mitigation will be able to give you estimates for your home. With proven techniques and time-tested, durable materials, most radon problems can be quickly fixed.
For those of you who have resolved to save money or make better financial decisions, taking action to test and fix high levels of radon gas is not only a strong investment for your family’s health, but also for your home. A home that has a system that reduces radon to acceptable levels can be a positive selling point when you put your house on the market. In many areas, disclosure of radon levels is a required part of real estate transactions. Whether it is required in your area or not, be sure to ask about radon testing if you’re house hunting. Also, if you are looking to build a new home, there are now effective and healthier radon-resistant construction techniques that home buyers can discuss with builders to reduce this health hazard.
I hope that 2014 is off to a good and healthy start for you. Please test your home for radon and take steps to keep this invisible, odorless hazard from harming you and your family.
Janet McCabe is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, having previously served as OAR’s Principal Deputy to the Assistant Administrator. Prior to joining EPA in November 2009, McCabe was Executive Director of Improving Kids’ Environment, Inc., a children’s environmental health advocacy organization based in Indianapolis, Indiana and was an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University School of Medicine, Department of Public Health. Ms. McCabe grew up in Washington, D.C. and graduated from Harvard College in 1980 and Harvard Law School in 1983.