Date Published: 02/28/2020 [Source]
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer. The naturally occurring radioactive gas is found beneath some one in 15 houses in the U.S. When we think of lung cancer risk factors, cigarettes are usually the first to come to mind, and with a good reason. Smoking, experts say, is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer deaths in the country. But lesser known is the second leading cause: radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that lurks beneath some one in 15 houses in the U.S.
It can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors. It can also be released from building materials, or from water obtained from wells that contain radon, according to the National Cancer Institute. Radon levels, it says, can be higher in homes that are well insulated, tightly sealed, and/or built on soil rich in the elements uranium, thorium, and radium. Basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels because of their closeness to the ground.
Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles, the NCI says. When inhaled, they can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer, the only cancer proven to be associated with inhaling radon.
The first step to preventing dangerous exposure to radon is determining whether you're being exposed to it in the first place.
The American Lung Association recommends taking action if the levels are anywhere above 2 pCi/L.4 picocuries of radon per liter of air (a picocurie is a measure of the rate of radioactive decay of radon), while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action if the radon levels present in the lowest floor of your home exceed the national radon action level of 4 pCi/L.
"If testing confirms that radon levels are high, then mitigation (repairs) should be done," says Stewart. "In nearly all cases, fixing a radon problem in a home is a simple and straightforward process, and it's similar in cost to other home repairs or appliances."
Repairs might include installing a vent pipe and fan in your home, for instance, which works by pulling radon from beneath your house and redirecting it to the outside.
According to the American Cancer Society, there are also ways to treat your water supply —especially if you get your water from a private well — so that radon is removed from the water before it enters your home. If your water comes from a public supply, you may have less direct control, but suppliers are required to take the proper precautions to mitigate radon exposure. If you're concerned that there may be radon in your public water supply, the best thing to do is to contact your supplier.
Although exposure to high levels of radon gas can increase lung cancer risks in both smokers and non-smokers alike, the American Cancer Society points out that the combination of radon exposure and smoking can contribute to an even greater risk.
There isn't an established test that can tell you whether your body has been exposed to radon. Having said that, if you expect that you've been exposed to high levels of radon and you are experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, persistent coughing, or tightness in your chest, your doctor may recommend you get screened for lung cancer. Pay attention to your body, and always loop your doctor in if something doesn't feel right.