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Radon: An Invisible Threat

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Pamela R. Turner, PhD, Department of Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics, University of Georgia
This post is in honor of Radon Action Month (January).

Pesticides, plastic water bottles, GMOs, cell phones…have you heard or read about warnings regarding these products? It can be hard to sort out misinformation from the facts, and remote risks from matters of true concern. As citizens of “Internet Nation,” we’re bombarded with information every day about issues like these. It can feel overwhelming.

However, there are a few well-known health risks that seem to get surprisingly little media attention. One such well-established but rarely talked-about danger is radon in our homes.

What is Radon?

Radon is an invisible, odorless, but radioactive gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in water, the earth, and rocks. It’s thought to cause at least 21,000 deaths per year from lung cancer, and is the #1 cause of lung cancer in people who do not smoke. However, smokers who are also exposed to radon are at especially high risk.

Radon Can Be a Problem In Any Home

Although certain regions of the country tend to be more prone to radon issues than others, radon can be a problem anywhere. An individual home’s radon level depends on its construction and the soils and rocks around and below it. New homes, old homes, well-built and poorly sealed homes all can have radon problems, and even your next-door neighbor’s indoor radon levels can’t predict what yours will be.

Check for Radon Regularly and Before Home Purchase

Homeowners should check for radon in the same way they would replace smoke detector batteries or check their furnace pilot lights; it is a safety precaution for the whole family. Those buying a home should also do a radon test before purchase to find out whether radon is an issue, because repairs might need to be made. For more about radon and homebuying, visit the EPA’s Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon.

Testing and Remediation are Easy

There’s no way to know if radon is present unless we test for it. But testing is easy, using an inexpensive over-the-counter kit homeowners can buy and use themselves. You can also hire a certified radon testing company. After you’ve completed your test, refer to the Florida Department of Health’s FAQ to learn what to do with the results. You should also periodically retest even if results show no problems.

If levels are too high in your home, there are solutions. The problem may be fixable using simple techniques, such as adding ventilation or sealing cracks in the foundation. Or it may be necessary to install a radon reduction system that removes the gas from your home. Average costs for such a system are anywhere from $1200-3000.  Use a certified radon mitigation professional for these services.

Radon may be undetectable as we go about our everyday lives, but the risk is real. To ensure that your family is protected from the potential risks of radon exposure, visit the links in Further Reading.

(Photo credit: Radioactive by Blake Burkhart. CC BY 2.0. Cropped.)

Further Reading

US EPA: Radon

Radon FAQ—Florida Department of Health

EPA Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon

References

Florida Department of Health. (n.d.) Radon FAQ. Retrieved from http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/radon/radon-faq.html

Florida Department of Health. (n.d.) Radon program. Retrieved from http://www.floridahealth.gov/environmental-health/radon/index.html 

US EPA. (2013). Home buyer’s and seller’s guide to radon. Retrieved from http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/hmbyguid.html