Healthier Home

Radon Exposure and Risk for Lung Cancer

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep through cracks in the foundation of your home and its walls which can then diffuse into the air. Radon is present is most of the air around us, so we are actually exposed to it at fairly low levels on a regular basis.

It is when radon is trapped in your home or a confined space where you spend a relatively good amount of time, where it can eventually build up to a toxic level which can cause lung cancer. Although cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of lung cancer, it is found that radon comes in second. In the Iowa Radon Lung Cancer Study the risk estimates obtained indicated that cumulative radon exposure presents an important environmental health hazard.

“Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer, the only cancer proven to be associated with inhaling radon. There has been a suggestion of increased risk of leukemia associated with radon exposure in adults and children; however, the evidence is not conclusive.”-National Cancer Institute

Significant radon exposure can cause symptoms such as a persistent cough, coughing up blood, hoarseness, shortness of breath, frequent infections with pneumonia or chronic bronchitis. If you have any of these symptoms without any known potential causes, it is highly recommended that you test your home.

Steps to take to combat radon exposure:

  • Start by testing your home. You can do it yourself with a kit or hire a professional. Basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels because of their closeness to the ground, so you will want to make sure you test the lowest floor in which you are occupying. You can find a radon test kit or professional here.
  • If you find a radon problem in your home, you will want to take steps to fix it depending on the result of radon level.
  • If you smoke, take active measures to stop smoking. Smoking a health risk on its own but combined with high levels of radon exposure it posses a much greater hazard and increased risk for lung cancer.
  • If you have any questions you can call this national hotline at: 1-800-55RADON (557-2366).

Radon levels can vary depending on different factors like weather, humidity, wind, precipitation. Therefore a long term test might yield more accurate results versus a short term test which may be affected by one of those conditions. A short-term test will yield faster results, but a long-term test will give you a better understanding of your home’s year-round average radon level and exposure risk.

Below I share with you the results from my own personal home. I did a short test which is recommended to test for 48 hours or at least no more than 96 hours. I did not have a chance to stop the test right at the 48 hour mark and ended up running the test for a little past 60 hours, which was still okay. However, because my result came back at 2.4pCi/L I am going to conduct another test, this time utilizing a long-term test kit, to compare the results. I want to ensure that the level is below 2.0pCi/L, so if the second result comes back higher I will look at measures to reduce it.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a Citizen’s Guide to Radon: The Guide to Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Radon. They also have more information about residential radon exposure and what people can do about it in the Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction.