"Radon is actually the leading environmental cause of cancer mortality in the United States," says Bill Field, a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa. "About 21,000 people die each year from it. People really underestimate its importance."Lung cancer is the only type of cancer with a proven association to protracted exposure to radon. "We have some suspicions it may be related to other types of cancers, but there are no studies that have conclusively shown that," Field says.As a cause of lung cancer in the U.S., radon is surpassed only by smoking. And people who smoke are even more vulnerable when exposed to radon. "If you're a smoker and you live in a house with radon, your risk is geometrically higher than just being a smoker without it," says Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy at the American Lung Association. "The two together combine to worsen your risk of developing lung cancer."
Why do I have Radon?
Today's energy-efficient, airtight homes actually pull radon inside and trap it there, says Angel Price, associate director of Cancer Survivors Against Radon. "Your houses suck" is a phrase used in radon-training courses, she says, to illustrate how homes work as vacuums to draw radon in.CanSAR was co-founded by Elizabeth Hoffman, who was diagnosed with radon-induced lung cancer in 2003 and died a decade later. Hoffman became an anti-radon advocate, testifying several times in front of Congress about the dangers of radon and the need for national awareness and action.
If I have Radon how do we fix it?
If your home's radon levels are elevated, you can take steps the improve them. "Exposure is the concentration times the time you've been at the exposure," FIeld says. "So you want to make every effort to decrease that exposure by eliminating the source."Mitigation is the process used to reduce radon concentration and prevent the gas from coming into your home, Field explains. Installing a mitigation system involves drilling a hole in your basement foundation or first-floor slab, and running a PVC pipe from a ground-level trench upward. An exhaust fan quickly draws radon from inside your home and sends it out through the roof."To me, radon is like a little dirty bomb that goes off in homes, but the dirty radioactive bomb is from Mother Nature," Field says. "Radon outdoors is naturally occurring. Radon, when it's coming into your home, is not." Making new homes radon-resistant is a cost-effective way to be proactive, he says. "You're talking about $500 extra when you build that home."