By Janet McCabe
If I told you that there was an invisible, odorless air pollutant that was responsible for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths in America every year, I bet you’d want to know that something was being done about it.
The fact is, you can do something about it – by testing your home for radon.
We take radon very seriously at EPA. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths per year than radon, making it the second leading cause in the United States. As one staff member in the EPA air office said to me recently, “The statistics on radon are no joke.” I couldn’t agree more.
Where does it come from? Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from uranium deposits in the soil. As uranium breaks down, it gives off radon gas, which then rises and can enter homes through their foundations. If that happens, then radon levels can reach dangerously high levels. There’s no way to predict if your home has high or low levels, though some areas of the country are more prone to high radon levels than others.
Testing is the only way to know for sure if your home is safe. Nationally, one in 15 homes has radon above the level at which the U.S. Surgeon General and EPA recommend taking action, which is four picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air.
January is National Radon Action Month, when EPA joins with states and a number of national organizations to spread the word about the importance of testing for radon. January is a great time to test because that’s when doors and windows are shut to keep out the cold, leading to test results that are likely to show a home’s maximum radon level.
Testing is nothing to be intimidated by. Reliable, low cost, do-it-yourself kits have easy to follow instructions and are available online and at many hardware stores. There’s also the option of hiring a qualified tester. Whichever way you choose, a great place to start is your state’s radon office.
There’s no reason to delay. I should know; I’ve tested two homes. One had high levels that we were easily able to fix, and the other was safe, which was a huge relief.
If tests show elevated radon levels, the fixes are straightforward and affordable – comparable in cost to replacing a few windows or a garage door. Like what happened with my homes, the peace of mind that you get in return is priceless.
Questions about radon? Join me and the American Lung Association for a twitter chat on Thursday, January 21 at 3:00pm ET to learn more about radon and what you can do to protect your family. Use the #TestForRadon hashtag to participate.