Radon is a colorless, odorless gas formed naturally during the decay of uranium found in rocks and soil. Exposure to this toxic substance can lead to lung cancer. In fact, radon is estimated to be the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second leading cause of the disease overall. Scientists estimate that approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year are related to radon.
The incidence of lung cancer caused by radon is highest among miners, who are often exposed to high levels. Radon in the soil can also pollute the air of a home by entering through cracks or other openings, usually in the basement. Smokers who live in a home with high radon levels are at especially high risk for lung cancer.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends measuring radon levels in homes and reducing the levels when they exceed four picocuries per liter (pCi/L) and to consider similar actions when the radon level is between 2 and 4.0 pCi/L. According to the American Lung Association, about one in 15 homes in the U.S. tests positive for dangerous levels of radon.
To determine whether radon levels are high in your area, contact your local EPA office. Taking a radon measurement in an individual house, however, is the only definitive way to know the radon level. Radon detection kits are available online and in most hardware stores. Alternatively, you can hire a certified radon-testing professional.
If it is necessary to reduce radon levels in your home, contact a state-certified contractor or one who has been certified by the National Radon Proficiency Program or the National Radon Safety Board.