Many parts of the country are at high risk for exposure to radon. In Kentucky and Southern Indiana, almost 50% of all buildings contain radon concentrations above the US EPA action level of 4.0 pCi/L. This risk is even higher in Louisville and Lexington, where the percentage of buildings with a radon problem can exceed 65% in certain areas! So, what is radon gas and why should you care?
What is radon gas?
Radon is a naturally occurring, cancer-causing, radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell, or taste. The gas derives from the breakdown of uranium and seeps up through the ground, diffusing into the air. In a few areas of the country, radon is contained in ground water, where it off-gasses into the air when the water is used. Radon gas usually exists in relatively low concentrations in outdoor air, averaging 0.4 pCi/L. However, when radon intrudes into buildings and becomes trapped in higher concentrations, significant health risks arise.
According to the US EPA, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers (second overall to smoking) and is responsible for more than 21,000 annual deaths in the United States. Read on for more about the health risks associated with radon gas and how to protect you and your loved ones from this silent killer.
How are you exposed to radon gas?
Most commonly, radon intrudes into buildings through gaps, cracks, and other pathways. In a small percentage of buildings, the gas can also be released from a private water source or emanate from building materials. Radon concentrations can also be higher in buildings that are more energy efficient – well-insulated, tightly-sealed buildings decrease the number of air changes per hour, which can increase exposure to radon.
Hazardous concentrations of radon can be found in all buildings, such as your home, your place of work, or even the school your children attend. According to the US EPA, about 1 in 15 buildings contain hazardous concentrations of radon gas. However, in some parts of our country, 50% or more of buildings have a radon problem!
How does radon gas cause lung cancer?
Radon gas decays quickly, releasing tiny radioactive particles. When these particles are inhaled, they can damage the cells that line your lungs. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer. If you smoke, your risk is even greater. An increased risk of leukemia associated with radon exposure in adults and children has also been suggested.
Due to lung shape and size differences, children have higher estimated radiation doses than adults. Children also have breathing rates faster than those of adults. Risk of lung cancer in children resulting from exposure to radon may be almost two times greater than the risk to adults exposed to the same amount of radon. Sadly, an estimated 70,000 classrooms contain hazardous radon concentrations because most schools and childcare facilities aren’t required to test for radon gas.
What are the symptoms of radon gas poisoning?
Unlike with other gases like carbon monoxide, symptoms of radon poisoning won’t show up right away. Exposure to radon gas is chronic, meaning health problems from exposure, such as lung cancer, show up after many years.
Early signs of lung cancer may include a nagging cough, shortness of breath, or wheezing. Coughing up blood or chest pain, as well as loss of appetite, weight loss, and fatigue are other symptoms association with lung cancer.
What do I do if I have radon gas poisoning symptoms?
Specific medical testing to determine if you have been exposed to hazardous concentrations of radon gas don’t exist. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the symptoms of lung cancer, even if you don’t smoke. If you think you have been exposed to radon gas or have any of the symptoms of lung cancer, talk with your doctor about whether you should be tested to check for lung cancer. If you smoke – stop!
How can I protect myself and my family from radon gas?
Testing where you live or work is easy and cost-effective. If you have children attending school, request the building where they learn be tested. If you find you have a radon problem, take steps to have the building mitigated to control your exposure to radon gas.
Ensure that all testing and mitigation is done by a qualified professional using the national consensus standards. Better yet, let the professionals at Protect Environmental provide you with peace of mind protection in knowing that you and your family are safe from the silent killer – radon gas.
The Bottom Line.
Exposure to radon gas presents a significant health concern. The only way to know if you and your family are at risk is to test the buildings where you live, work, or learn. Testing is easy and cost-effective. If you have a radon problem, affordable options for mitigating your exposure exist. You should always use a qualified professional for testing and mitigation.