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Is Your House a Hazard to Your Health?

An invisible threat to health may be lurking in the place where most people like to think they are the safest: the home.

The threat is radon, a naturally occurring, colorless, odorless, tasteless, radioactive gas. Through basements, floors, cracks in walls and other openings, radon seeps into houses. Sometimes, it turns up in drinking water. Radon causes an estimated 20,000 deaths from lung cancer every year. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.

Exposure to radon has no immediate symptoms so, with lung cancer often taking years to develop, people can breathe in this carcinogen long-term and remain unaware of the damage inflicted on their health.

What is radon?

A byproduct of uranium, radon is found in rocks and soil. Radon is prevalent throughout the United States and Canada.

Radon can accumulate in any type of building – homes, offices, schools – but the greatest risk for dangerous exposure is in the home as that is where people spend most of their time. Radon levels in homes and other buildings fluctuate throughout the year. They are usually at their highest during cold weather when furnaces are run and windows are closed.

How prevalent is radon?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that one out of every 15 homes, regardless of when they were constructed, has elevated levels of radon. Every house should be tested. Do-it-yourself radon test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores or online. They are inexpensive and easy to use. Professional radon testers can also be hired. Owners should take action – increase ventilation – when radon levels are at or above four picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). Radon mitigation entails installing a pipe and fan system to pull radon from beneath the house and vent it harmlessly outside while sealing cracks in walls and around foundations. The cost can run from several hundred to several thousand dollars. The EPA or your state radon office can help you find professional radon testers in your area and, if mitigation is necessary, qualified contractors. Homes should be retested after the repairs have been made.

Reduce the Risk of Radon Exposure in Your Home

  • Seal cracks in floors and walls with plaster, caulk or other crack sealants.
  • Cover the earth floor in crawl spaces with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan can be used to blow the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors.
  • Keep your home ventilated by opening windows and using fans and vents to circulate fresh air.
  • Do not smoke in your house. Smoking increases the risk of lung cancer from radon.

Don’t allow radon to be a hazard to your health. Have your house tested. Find out if it really is the safest place to hang your hat or what measures you need to take so that, once again, it will be.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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