Radon is the second leading cause of cancer behind cigarette smoking. In fact, radon is responsible for about 21,000 deaths every year. Because this gas is odorless, tasteless and colorless, many people don’t know if their homes contain high levels of radon or if they’re at greater risk of developing cancer because of their exposure.
Here’s what you need to know about radon exposure.
Radon is a Natural Radioactive Gas
Radon is a natural, radioactive gas that forms when thorium, uranium or radium break down in rocks, groundwater or soil.
People can be exposed to radon from breathing radon in air that seeps through gaps and cracks in homes and buildings. Because radon is naturally from the earth, you’re always exposed to it.
But when you breathe in radon, the radioactive particles can become trapped in your lungs. Over time, these particles can increase your risk of lung cancer. It can take many years for symptoms to arise.
Smoking and Radon Exposure Greatly Increases Cancer Risk
According to the CDC, those who smoke and are exposed to radon are at a much greater risk of developing lung cancer.
Quitting smoking can help reduce your overall risk of developing lung cancer.
Radon Levels Can Be Reduced
If your home is tested and found to have high radon levels, you can install a system that reduces levels.
Other types of radon reduction methods include:
With house or room pressurization, a fan is used to blow air into the basement or living area from upstairs or outdoors. The goal is to create enough pressure at the lowest levels in the home (e.g. the basement) to prevent radon from entering the structure.
The effectiveness of this method is dependent on the home’s construction, the climate, other appliances in the home and your lifestyle.
Sealing Cracks and Openings
Sealing cracks and openings in the home’s foundation is the simplest and one of the most important aspects of radon reduction. Sealing cracks limits the flow of radon into the home and also makes other radon reducing techniques more effective.
The EPA does not recommend using this method alone to lower radon levels, as it has not been shown to lower radon levels consistently or significantly.
A heat recovery ventilator, or HRV, can be installed in a home to increase ventilation and lower radon levels. These systems work by introducing outdoor air while using the exhausted heated or cooled air to heat or cool the incoming air.
HRVs can ventilate all or part of the home, but these systems can increase the cost of heating and cooling a home.
Natural ventilation can also help reduce radon levels. Opening windows, doors and vents will all improve ventilation and allow outdoor air to mix with the indoor air.
But once the windows, doors or vents are closed, radon levels return to the previous levels in about 12 hours.
Natural ventilation is only a temporary solution for high radon levels. A more permanent solution should be installed to keep radon levels as low as possible.