What’s The Big Deal With Radon?
By Debbie Kalina, Radon Protection Technologies, LLC
OK, so you’ve heard about radon. It’s a naturally occurring radioactive gas. It’s odorless, tasteless and you can’t see it. It’s produced by the natural breakdown of uranium in the soil. It enters homes and buildings through cracks and openings in the foundation or floor slab.
But what’s the big deal? Why do homeowners want to know if their homes may have high radon levels? Isn’t this just one more thing that homeowners, realtors, buyers and sellers have to deal with nowadays?
Not according to U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, who recently warned the American public about the risks of breathing indoor radon by issuing a national health advisory in a press release dated January 13, 2005. The advisory is meant to urge Americans to act in order to prevent this silent radioactive gas from seeping into their homes and building up to dangerous levels.
“Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country,” Dr. Carmona said. “It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”
Jeffrey R. Holmstead, an assistant administrator with the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Radiation said, “Americans need to know about the risks of indoor radon and have the information and tools they need to take action. That’s why EPA is actively promoting the Surgeon General’s advice urging all Americans to get their homes tested for radon. If families do find elevated levels in their homes, they can take inexpensive steps that will reduce exposure to this risk.”
The biggest concern is that radon gas is a known human carcinogen. If inhaled, airborne radon decay products become deeply lodged or trapped in the lung tissue, where the radioactive alpha particles radiate and penetrate the cells of the mucous membranes, bronchi, and other pulmonary tissues. The ionizing radiation energy affecting these cells is believed to initiate the process of carcinogenesis (cancer production).
More is known about the health risk of radon exposure than almost any other human carcinogen, and studies have been devoted to research radon’s impact on miners, homeowners and animals.
Studies are also being conducted regarding the effects of radon on other parts of the body. In a recent study conducted by the University of North Dakota, researchers discovered that the presence of radon daughters (byproducts) in the brains of non-smoking persons with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases was 10 times greater than in the brains of persons with no previous evidence of neurological disorders.
The issues related to radon exposure specifically and indoor air quality in general continue to increase as we build tighter structures and people continue to spend between 85 percent and 95 percent of their time indoors. In just the past 25 years, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has increased the percentage of indoor air quality health evaluations it has conducted from 0.5 percent of all evaluations in 1978 to 52 percent since 1990. This means that in those years, the evaluations related to air quality concerns have increased from one of every 200 evaluations to one of every two.
The good news in all of this is that radon is easy to test for, and it is easy to fix homes that are found to have high levels of radon. An added benefit of installing a radon reduction system is that it can also help to minimize the entry of other gases in the soil, including water vapor, pesticides, herbicides and sewer gases, thereby helping to improve the overall indoor air quality of a home or structure.
For more information on radon and lung cancer, please visit these Web sites:
The Facts About Radon and Lung Cancer
- Over 50% of the homes in the eastern 1/3 of Nebraska have levels of radon above the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/l. (picoCuries per liter of air)
- Over 50% of the homes in Iowa have levels of radon above the EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/l.
- Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States
- Lung cancer kills more Americans each year than breast, prostrate and colorectal cancers combined.
- Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer.
- Lung cancer kills 85 percent of newly diagnosed patients within five years.
- Approximately 50 percent of the people diagnosed with lung cancer have never smoked, or are former smokers.
- Lung cancer gets few of the research dollars because of the perception that it is self-inflicted by smoking.
- In 2003, approximately $1,740 was spent on research per lung cancer death, compared with: $13,649 per breast cancer death, $10,560 per prostrate cancer death, and $4,581 per colorectal cancer death.