Radon: A Leading Environmental Cause of Cancer Mortality

By Dr Susan Conrath

Throughout my career as a Public Health Service Officer and EPA employee, I have always been surprised by the relatively low level of radon awareness throughout the country. Radon is a Class A carcinogen- we know that it causes cancer in humans. But, this huge environmental risk is not on most individuals’ “radar screens.” Radon is a radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil. Since it is a gas it can easily move through spaces in the soil and escape into the air where it is diluted. However, when radon enters a home through cracks in the foundation or other openings, it becomes trapped inside and can accumulate. You can’t see, smell or taste radon, but it’s there. In fact, its discovery as an indoor air issue occurred when an individual, Stanley Watras, set off radiation alarms in a nuclear power plant because his home’s levels were so high.

Many people do not realize that radon is the number two cause of lung cancer in the U.S.; exceeded only by smoking. For never-smokers radon is the number one cause of lung cancer. Scientific studies have confirmed the risk and show no evidence that there is any “safe” level of radon.

As shown on our Health Risks Page radon-induced lung cancer deaths [at the U.S. average indoor air concentration of 1.3 picocuries/Liter of air [1.3pCi/L]] are in the same general range as deaths from leukemia and lymphoma and are greater than a number of selected cancers that we currently spend large amounts of money to research and/or combat.

Protect your family! The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test. Testing is easy and inexpensive. If your level is high fix the problem. It’s one of the best investments you can make for your family’s health and it will enhance the future sales potential of your home by making it a healthier place to live. Learn more about how to test and fix for radon.

If you are building a house or having one built, radon-resistant new construction [RRNC] techniques can be used to avoid having to deal with high radon concentrations. It’s less expensive to install RRNC during construction than to have to fix a radon problem at a later date.

About the author: Dr Susan Conrath is a CAPTAIN with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She works in the Office of Radiation and Indoor Air as an epidemiologist and international expert on radon risk.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations 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.