Radon: Is This Deadly Gas Lurking in Your Home?

March 15, 2017

Did you know that breathing radon for prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to you and your family? According to the Surgeon General’s National Health Advisory, millions of homes have an elevated radon level and more than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer every year.  And what’s really scary is that there are no obvious radon symptoms. You would never know that you have elevated radon levels in your home unless you tested for it.

You can’t see, taste or smell radon, so testing your home and workplace is the only way to be sure of your level of exposure. And don’t be fooled that radon only affects certain kinds of home — it can actually be a problem in homes of all kinds, whether they are new homes, “radon-resistant homes,” old homes, drafty homes, homes with basements or homes without basements. If you find out that radon is a threat in your home, you can reduce the levels using well-established venting techniques and try detoxing your body in an effort to keep your lungs as healthy as possible despite any damage done by radon exposure.

Thankfully, a professionally installed radon mitigation system can lower your exposure by more than 90 percent and add decades to your life. A system with these life-saving perks typically costs an average of just $1,200 in a home.  I’d say it’s an investment well worth it if radon is a problem in your home.

What Is Radon?

So where does radon come from. And what is it, exactly? Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils and rocks. Most of the time, it’s emitted into the home from the soil through cracks. But it can also enter the home through well water and from building materials. Typically, it moves up through the ground into the air, and then into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation. When it becomes trapped in the home, it begins to build up and negatively effect the health of the people living there. Radon is invisible, odorless and tasteless — and it doesn’t cause immediate health symptoms — so there’s no way to know if you are at risk of radon exposure.

Not only are elevated radon levels found in homes, they are also a problem in schools, childcare facilities and workplaces. According to a citizen’s guide published by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon gets into your home or any other building through :

Cracks in solid floors

Cracks in the walls

Construction joints

Gaps in suspended floors

Gaps around service pipes and wires

Cavities inside walls

The water supply

Radon Health Effects

Lung Cancer

Radon is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, along with smoking and secondhand smoke. It’s blamed for up 14 percent of lung cancer cases worldwide. Radon exposure is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, and about 2,900 of those deaths occur among people who have never smoked. For smokers, the risk of lung cancer is significantly higher due to the synergistic effects of radon and smoking. A non-smoker (who has never smoked) who is exposed to 1.3 picoCuries per liter of air (the average amount of radon in U.S homes) has a 2 in 1,000 chance of dying lung cancer, while the chances among smokers is 20 in 1,000.

Here’s how radon effects your lungs — radon gas decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe. As the particles break down further, they release small bursts of energy that can damage lung tissue to lead to lung cancer over the course of your lifetime.

The most compelling evidence of radon health effects originally came from studies involving underground miners, particularly uranium miners who were exposed to radon in the mid-20th Century. The results consistently demonstrated increased risk of lung cancer with increasing exposure to radon in the working environment.

Since then, numerous studies have established the carcinogenic potential of radon. Research shows that radon can damage the DNA of the respiratory epithelium, a type of tissue found in the lining of the respiratory tract that helps protect the airways and prevent tissue injury.  The consensus from a 2016 review of 24 case-control studies confirmed that chronic radon exposure, from 5 to 25 years, can cause lung cancer in the general population, with the relation between radon exposure and lung cancer being more apparent in smokers than in people who have never smoked.

The relationship between radon and the risk of lung cancer is linear, meaning  doubling your exposure to radon will double your risk of developing cancer. Halving your exposure halves your risk.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

According to research published in the European Respiratory Journal, there’s a significant positive linear trend in COPD mortality with increasing radon concentrations. In a study of more than 800,000 participants from 2,754 American counties, researchers found an association between residential radon and mortality from non-malignant respiratory disease. Although cigarette smoking is a major known risk factor for the development of COPD symptoms, studies show that other risk factors include occupational dusts and fumes, air pollution and genetic susceptibility. In the case of radon exposure, it appears that there’s a stronger association in people over the age of 65; however, more research is needed to identify the prevalence of COPD deaths due to radon.

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