Keeping Radon on Your Radar
As a child growing up in the early 2000s, I suffered from asthma. I was always very aware of air quality, windchill, and temperature because they all impacted my breathing. Growing up with an inhaler in your hand at all times instills a sense of caution and fear regarding what enters your lungs. I re-learned this later in life when television advertisements showed the impacts of smoking cigarettes. Little did I know, however, that radon gas, which hides in seemingly “clean” air in many homes in the United States, could be just as harmful.
What is Radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas that forms from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. It travels through the soil into the cracks and infrastructure of buildings, such as houses. We cannot see or smell it, which often leaves the gas undetected. There is no safe level of radon.
In 2005, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a national health advisory on radon attributing long-term exposure to radon to cancer and advising Americans to take steps to reduce radon in their homes. The EPA recommends testing your home for radon and taking steps to reduce radon levels if they are above the recommended “action level” of four (4) picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or more. Nearly one in 15 homes in the United States has radon above this level. Because of this, radon has become the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
In the United States, alone, there are around 21,000 radon-related lung cancer deaths every year. From the time of diagnosis, only 11–15% of those afflicted will live beyond five years. The greatest radon exposure amount is likely to be from our homes, where we spend most of our time, making this an issue that could impact anyone.
A Tale of Caution and Action
The internet is packed with stories of unsuspecting families discovering that they have been living with high radon levels. However, one story of perseverance and courage has stood out from the masses. Kerri Robbins, a resident of Lehi, Utah, lived and worked in her house with a radon level of 31.3 pCi/L. This radon level is equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Kerri lived unaware of the radioactive gas in her home for many years, developing lung cancer, which metastasized, spreading from her lungs to her brain. Yet, instead of accepting defeat, Kerri took this opportunity to inform others of radon and save them from the heartache that she still faces today. She urges both homeowners and renters to purchase a testing kit and to educate themselves on the impacts of radon.
Since Kerri’s first call to action, over 11,000 Utah residents have ordered radon testing kits. One homeowner who had heard Kerri’s story, Heidi Parker, tested for radon and discovered a radon level of 19.7 pCi/L, the equivalent of smoking around 40 cigarettes a day. Following testing, Heidi installed a radon mitigation system, and she credits Kerri for helping reduce the cancer risk for not only herself, but her children and 2-year-old grandson.
Test, Fix, Save a Life
High radon levels have been found in every state. Both local geology and home construction features can affect radon levels in a home. Radon levels can vary greatly between houses in a neighborhood and can change over time, so your neighbor’s test result or a previous owner’s test result are not good indicators of the current radon levels in your home.
To remain consistently knowledgeable of your home’s radon levels, it is best to invest in a testing kit . Many resources, ranging from books, publications, radon hotlines, webinars, and much more, are available to help.
January is National Radon Action Month. I encourage you to protect yourself and your family by testing your home for radon and taking steps to reduce radon levels, if necessary. It could save a life.
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