The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared January National Radon Action Month. Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, and it is estimated to cause thousands of deaths each year. During this time, local health departments are encouraged to raise awareness about radon exposure in their communities, and promote radon testing in homes, schools, and other buildings.
Radon is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that can be found in homes and buildings all across the country. It develops naturally from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon is found outdoors in harmless amounts, but in buildings built on natural uranium deposits, it can become trapped and concentrated in dangerous levels. It typically moves up through the ground and into the home through cracks and holes in the foundation. EPA estimates that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has elevated radon levels.
In addition to lung cancer, long-term radon exposure can cause emphysema, pulmonary fibrosis, chronic interstitial pneumonia, silicosis, and respiratory lesions. Moreover, radon is especially dangerous to smokers, as it compounds the heightened risk they already face.
The only way to know if radon in a problem in a home or building is to test for it. EPA recommends testing all homes that haven’t been tested in the past two years, as well as testing in schools. Testing is inexpensive and takes only a few minutes; homeowners can hire a qualified radon test company or purchase a do-it-yourself kit. Most local health departments and state radon centers make kits available to their communities. If a home or building is found to have high levels of radon present, a number of solutions are available from sealing cracks to altering ventilation.
For more information in National Radon Action Month and Radon Awareness:
- National Radon Action Month: Resources for Local Health Departments (NACCHO Preparedness Brief)
- A Citizen’s Guide to Radon (EPA)
- National Radon Action Month Consumer Information (EPA)
- Handbook on Indoor Radon: A Public Health Perspective (WHO)