January is National Radon Action Month

National Radon Action Month (NRAM) was created by the EPA and others to help increase public awareness about the health effects of exposure to radon and to promote radon testing and mitigation. NRAM also promotes the use of radon-resistant new construction practices in an effort to create healthier indoor living environments, which in turn helps prevent the loss of lives from radon-induced lung cancer.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. Studies have shown that radon causes an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year1. However, a recent study by the President’s Cancer Panel, “Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now”, suggests that this number may be low. “Radon is the number one cause of environmentally induced cancer mortality in the United States. During the past 50 years, over a million people have died nationwide from radon-related lung cancer”, says Dr. R. William Field, University of Iowa professor of occupational and environmental health and epidemiology.

With a disease as deadly as lung cancer, it’s important to know the facts. Lung cancer is the most fatal in the United States – for both men and women. One in 14 Americans will get lung cancer, and it kills more people than breast, prostate, colorectal, and leukemia combined. It kills more than twice as many men as prostate cancer and almost twice as many women as breast cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco accounts for 87% of lung cancer deaths (and also increases risk for other cancers, as well as chronic diseases including heart disease and emphysema). But, even though it’s less common, some people who don’t smoke get lung cancer too. If lung cancer in “never smokers” (defined by researchers as people who have smoked fewer than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime) had its own category separate from lung cancer in smokers, it would rank among the top 10 fatal cancers in the United States.

What everyone should know about radon:

 

What is Radon and how are we exposed to it? Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is caused by the decay of uranium in the earth’s soil. You cannot see, taste or smell radon, but you can test for it. Radon can enter a home or building through openings in the foundation or floor slab, and it can accumulate in these enclosed spaces.

 

How much radon is too much? The USEPA recommends that homes with radon levels at or above 4.0 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) be mitigated to reduce the radon. In 2009, The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended that homes with radon levels above 2.7 pCi/L be mitigated.

 

What can be done to reduce exposure to radon? The most effective and cost efficient method of reducing radon is to capture it before it has a chance to get into the home. This can be done with sub-slab depressurization, drain tile depressurization, sub-membrane depressurization (in crawl spaces) or a combination of these. Piping is installed that will pull the radon from under the floor slab or drain tile loop (with the help of a fan), and the radon is vented safely outside before it has a chance to enter the home. In homes with (dirt floor) crawl spaces, a plastic membrane is installed, and the radon (and other soil gases) is collected from beneath the membrane. A dirt floor crawl space will most likely increase the cost of a “typical” radon mitigation system.