We protect our families against all sorts of household dangers. But many of us don't check our houses for radon gas, even though radon causes thousands of cases of lung cancer every year.
You Can't Smell or See Radon
Radon is a radioactive gas formed by the breakdown of uranium, which is naturally found in rocks and soil. Radon has no color, smell, or taste, making it undetectable to our senses.
Radon gas can enter a house through any small gaps where the house touches dirt. These gaps can include construction joints, cracks in the foundation or floor, and the spaces around pipes. Radon can also come from some sources of water, and from certain building materials that contain small amounts of uranium. In the outdoors, radon isn't a problem, since it is diluted by fresh air. But in a house, radon can accumulate to high levels.
Radon gas naturally breaks down into radioactive particles that we breathe in. Those particles settle in our lungs and deliver radiation to our healthy lung tissues. That radiation can cause lung cancer.
A Significant Risk of Cancer
Lung cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other cancer, and radon itself causes one out of every six lung cancer deaths.
According to Health Canada, if you are a non-smoker who is exposed to high levels of radon, your lifetime risk of lung cancer is about one-in-twenty. For smokers, the risk is substantially higher. A smoker who is exposed to those high levels of radon has a lifetime risk of lung cancer of one-in-three.
It is estimated that about 400 Americans and 40 Canadians die of radon-related lung cancers each week.
Testing is Recommended
Some geographic regions are more likely to have higher levels of radon, based on the underlying amount of uranium in the earth in that area. But even in low-radon areas, some houses can have high levels of radon, and the only way to know is to check.
Home radon testing is recommended by both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada. Testing can be done by purchasing a do-it-yourself test kit, or by hiring a radon testing service. The do-it-yourself tests provide a kit that you send back to a laboratory once the testing is complete. Setting up the test kit takes only a few minutes.
For more information on Radon, and how to test your home, go to the US. Environmental Protection Agency Radon Website and the Health Canada Radon Website.