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Radon is a radioactive gas that causes cancer.
Radon is found in rock, soil, water, some building materials, and natural gas.
You can't see, taste, or smell it.
Any home, school,
office, or other building can have high levels of radon. Radon is found in new
and old buildings. It can seep in through the foundation of a house built on
radon-contaminated soil. If a house's water supply contains radon, radon may enter the air inside the house through pipes, drains, faucets, or appliances that use water. Then the radon may get trapped inside the house.
Radon sinks to the low points in buildings, so it often is found in basements. But a
building can have high levels of radon even if it doesn't have a basement.
Studies show that nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the United States has
unsafe levels of radon.1 If you live in an area that has large deposits of uranium, you may be
more likely to be exposed to high levels of radon. (To see a map of the U.S.
radon zones, see the website www.epa.gov/radon/zonemap.html.) But the construction features and exact location of your house may be just as likely to
affect your risk. Even houses right next to each other can have very different radon levels.
Over time, exposure to radon can cause lung cancer. Radon causes about
21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. It is the second leading cause
of lung cancer, after tobacco smoking.1 People who
smoke have an even higher risk of lung cancer from radon exposure than people
who don't smoke.
Radon exposure doesn't cause symptoms. Unless your home or office is tested for high radon levels, you may not realize that you are being exposed
to dangerous levels of radon until you or someone in your family is diagnosed
with lung cancer.
U.S. Surgeon General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
recommend that all homes be tested for radon levels.
You can hire a
qualified tester to do the test, or you can use a do-it-yourself test kit. Use only home tests
that are labeled "meets EPA requirements." You can buy radon test kits by calling the EPA at 1-800-SOS-RADN (1-800-767-7236). There are two types of tests. Both measure radon levels in the air.
If you have questions about radon in your house, you can get help from the EPA by calling 1-800-55-RADON (1-800-557-2366).
If tests find a high level of radon, you'll need to reduce it. There are
two parts to this:
Use an EPA-qualified contractor with proper training in radon reduction to help with this work.
After radon reduction or prevention procedures
are done, the home or building should be retested. You may need to retest more than once. It is usually safe to live in
the home or building while the radon is being vented, but you may want to
confirm this with your local EPA office.
For general information about removing or reducing radon in your house, you can call the Radon Fix-It Hotline at 1-800-644-6999. If you
live outside the U.S., you can call your regional environmental protection
office for more information.
Learning about radon:
The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, works
to serve the public by using the best science, taking responsive public health
actions, and providing trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures
and disease related to toxic substances.
The American Lung Association provides programs of
education, community service, and advocacy. Some of the topics available
include asthma, tobacco control, emphysema, infectious disease, asbestos, carbon monoxide, radon,
The National Safety Council's mission is to educate and
influence society to adopt safety, health, and environmental policies,
practices, and procedures that prevent and reduce human suffering and economic
losses arising from preventable causes.
The EPA's Radon Web site provides answers to frequently
asked questions regarding the possibility of radon exposure in your home. It
also provides a list of hotlines, contact information for regional U.S. EPA
offices, and links to other radon resources. The Web site offers access to the
publication Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction, which
helps you select a qualified contractor to reduce the radon levels in your
home, determine an appropriate radon reduction method, and maintain your radon
reduction system. You can also learn how to obtain the video "Breathing Easy:
What Home Buyers and Sellers Should Know About Radon."
CitationsU.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2012). A Citizen's Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself and Your Family From Radon. Available online: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide.html.U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2010). Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction. Available online: http://www.epa.gov/radon/pdfs/consguid.pdf.
December 27, 2012
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & R. Steven Tharratt, MD, MPVM, FACP, FCCP - Pulmonology, Critical Care Medicine, Medical Toxicology
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