Here’s what to know about radon—including what it is and why it can be harmful if detected in your home.
You can’t see, smell, or taste radon. This radioactive gas occurs naturally as the uranium in soil and rocks breaks down—and it can be deadly. Exposure to radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after smoking. It’s to blame for some 21,000 deaths every year. There are no immediate symptoms of radon exposure; however, health problems can show up after many years.
Radon is harmless in outdoor air, where it’s only found in small amounts. But it can become concentrated in homes built on soil with uranium deposits. That’s because radon can enter homes through cracks in walls, basement floors, foundations, and other openings.
It can get into any building. But you and your family are most likely to get your greatest exposure at home since you spend the most time there.
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Is your home safe?
By some estimates, nearly 1 out of every 15 homes nationwide has elevated radon levels. The only way to know for sure if your home is one of them is to test for it. Your home might have dangerous levels of radon while your neighbor’s does not.
The Environmental Protection Agency advises testing all homes below the third floor for radon. That’s especially important if you or a family member smoke. The combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke is particularly dangerous.
The good news: Testing is easy. You can do it yourself with a kit bought at a hardware store or online. You mail it to a lab for results. Some states offer free testing kits too. You can also hire a professional to test your home.
If your home’s radon levels are high, you can fix the problem. Radon reduction systems work, and they’re typically not too costly. The most common remedy is to have a vent pipe system and fan installed. That pulls radon from beneath a house and vents it outside.
Additional references: American Cancer Society; American Lung Association