Over 15,000 deaths from lung cancer are directly attributable to prolonged exposure to radon gas, according to the National Institutes of Health. That makes it second only to cigarette smoke, but most people know very little about this pernicious, though common, gas.
When uranium breaks down in the earth’s substrate, it naturally releases radon gas, which then enters homes and office buildings through cracks in foundations and via sump pump openings. Occupants then unknowingly inhale the gas.
Risks from Radon Gas
Noting that globally 15% of lung cancers are due to the gas, the coordinator of the World Health Organization’s Radiation and Environmental Health Unit, Dr. Michael Repacholi, said, “Radon poses an easily reducible health risk . . . but has not up to now received widespread attention.”
The biggest health scare from breathing in radon gas is lung cancer, which has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, just 11 to 15% of those with this disease live beyond five years.
Though number two overall, radon gas is the number one cause of cancer among non-smokers, leading the U.S. Surgeon General to issue a national health advisory about its dangers.
According to the EPA, one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has radon levels in the danger zone. It can seep into new building construction as easily as it does into older structures.
For peace of mind, you can buy a do-it-yourself kit at your local home improvement store for $20 to $30. Check with your state agency that deals with environmental concerns to find out if it offers kits at a reduced fee or even for free. If you prefer not to test your home or office yourself, you can hire a contractor to do it.
How much is too much? According to the EPA, if the results indicate your home or office has more than four picocuries per liter, written pCi/L, you need to take immediate steps at remediation. If the levels are between 2 and 4 pCi/L, they recommend that you work to reduce the levels.
Ways to Prevent or Reduce Radon Levels
Radon remediation systems that can be installed by professionals are available for about $500 to $1000. They work like a vacuum to extract the gas, releasing its vapors harmlessly outside and away from where you work and live. After installation, periodic testing every few years still needs to be done.
In addition, you can follow these steps to manage the levels in your home or office:
- repair foundation cracks and problems as soon as you find them
- cover earthen walls that are exposed
- paint concrete floors with special sealants made for that purpose
- keep your heating, air conditioning and venting system well maintained
Prevention and remediation are essential to keep your home and office building safe from the dangerous effects of radon gas. Small businesses should also be armed with workers’ compensation insurance in the event an employee is harmed by radon gas in the workplace.