Mention an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that can be harmful to your health, and most people will automatically think of carbon monoxide (CO). This is understandable since CO is highly dangerous and can cause sudden illness, even death, before anyone realizes they’re inhaling it. However, CO isn’t the only insidious, potentially harmful gas that can be a problem in your home. Radon, when present at a sufficiently high level, can also have an adverse impact on the health of a home’s occupants.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall. Though not immediately deadly, radon is actually associated with many more deaths each year than CO is. In fact, radon causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the US. By comparison, CO poisoning accounts for somewhere around 400 deaths annually.
What is radon?
Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted. It is produced in soil and bedrock through the radioactive decay process, and can also be present in well water and in some building materials. Radon can migrate up through the soil and into your home through cracks or gaps in the foundation, floors, or walls as well as through dirt floors in crawlspaces.
Radon is always present in the air around us, but it can become a health issue when it enters and accumulates to a high level in homes, schools, offices, or other buildings. The EPA recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes with a radon level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air or higher.
Is elevated radon a common problem in our area?
According to data collected by the Ohio Department of Health Radon Education and Licensing Program, elevated levels of the gas have been found in homes in all 88 Ohio counties. It’s estimated that such levels are present in about half of all Ohio homes.
How do you test for radon?
You can purchase your own radon test kit at any home-improvement or hardware store, or you can order one by calling 1-800-SOS-RADON (1-800-767-7236) or going to the National Radon Program Services website (http://sosradon.org/test-kits). Testing can take just a few days or up to several months depending on the kit, and kits typically must be sent to a lab (specified on the product labeling) to get results. If you’re not comfortable doing the testing yourself, you can always hire a professional to do it for you.
What if your home’s radon level is high?
If you do get a high radon reading, mitigation will be necessary to reduce the risk of lung cancer for you and your family, which means sealing any gaps or cracks in your home’s foundation, floors, or walls using caulk, plaster, or other appropriate materials. Increasing ventilation by opening windows, running fans, etc. can also be helpful but is not a permanent fix to the problem in itself. The most effective approach is to hire a professional mitigation contractor who has the special licensing and expertise necessary to remedy the problem and restore your peace of mind.
Links to find licensed radon testers and licensed radon contractors in our area can be found on the Ohio Department of Health website (odh.ohio.gov). Under “Know Our Programs,” choose the “Radon Education and Licensing Program” option.