National Radon Safety Board member Andreas George has a lifetime of experience in the field of radon, and here sheds light on the importance of and best ways to test for elevated levels of it in your home.
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can be found all over the planet. It is colorless and odorless, impossible to detect with sight or smell. Although radon is usually found in very low concentrations outdoors, it tends to accumulate inside homes where it can pose a health risk.
Leading cause of lung cancer in “never smokers”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and World Health Organization have declared radon as the second-leading cause for lung cancer, where it is superseded only by cigarette smoking. Many of these radon-induced lung cancers occur in “never smokers,” individuals who have never picked up a cigarette or been exposed to second-hand smoke throughout their lives.
Although lung cancer can affect anyone, recent studies have shown that women are more likely to develop this disease; it is actually a leading cause of cancer deaths among females. Many non-smoking women were diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer after being exposed to elevated radon concentrations in their homes.
As the correlation between radon and lung cancer became known, many of these women shared their stories and became the first advocates to raise radon awareness. Unfortunately, many of these brave women died as a result of their cancer.
The risk of lung cancer from residential radon in “never smokers” is significant, and much higher than from environmental pollutants, indoor air pollution (such as cooking oil vapors or coal-burning stoves), asbestos, and genetic predisposition. An overwhelming majority of the radon epidemiological studies have found a direct correlation between residential radon exposures and lung cancer rates.
Find it early with indoor testing
Historically, the majority of lung cancer cases have very high mortality rates because they are not diagnosed until the disease reaches Stage III or IV, after the cancer has metastasized and begun to spread.
However, in recent years there has been substantial improvement in preliminary blood screenings that can detect lung cancer in its earliest stages. This is when it can be treated most successfully. As radon is a leading cause of cancer mortality in the United States (and around the world), individuals who suspect they’ve been exposed to high radon concentrations may benefit from these blood tests.
Despite recent advancements in preliminary screening techniques, the preferred method to reduce the risk of lung cancer is to minimize exposure to known causes such as elevated indoor radon and cigarette smoke. Your residential radon level can be measured by either purchasing a home test kit or by hiring a certified radon professional who is listed by the National Radon Safety Board or National Radon Proficiency Program.
These national certification programs ensure that approved test devices are accurate, and that qualified professionals follow national measurement and mitigation protocols. It’s important to note that some states have created their own certification programs, so you should check if any local guidelines exist.
If the radon concentration in your home meets or exceeds the EPA action limit of 4.0 picoCuries per Liter (pCi/L), you should strongly consider hiring a certified mitigation professional who can help reduce your home’s radon concentration to safer levels. The EPA recommends that mitigation should be considered even in homes with lower radon concentrations (between 2 and 4 picoCuries per Liter).
The cost to remediate is nominal given the health benefits from doing so.