It’s no conspiracy theory or scary urban legend: exposure to high levels of Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, increases our risk of developing lung cancer, no matter how healthy our lifestyles may be. Most worrying of all, the likeliest place for you to be exposed to dangerously high radon levels is in your own home.
Avoiding this major health risk is surprisingly easy, but many people aren’t even aware of Radon and the way in which it could be poisoning the places where we feel safest – our homes. Home testing is the first step to identifying this danger. But what is radon, and should you be concerned about your family’s safety? Here are the at-a-glance facts you need to know.
In case you’re among the many who have never heard of radon or who know little about it, some background information is in order.
Radon is perfectly natural, it isn’t a “pollutant” in the strictest sense of the word because it isn’t man made. But as any toxicologist will tell you, not everything that is natural is good for you. Snake venom would be an obvious example. Radon gas is formed in the earth when naturally occurring uranium decays. It seeps up through the ground, entering the air and water in the process.
This health threat isn’t obvious at all. You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, and you can’t smell it. It’s found just about everywhere, and it’s only when radon levels become unusually high that it becomes unsafe. Radon concentrations in the air wouldn’t ordinarily rise to dangerous levels under natural conditions except in underground caves. However, our homes resemble caves because they are usually poorly ventilated and protected against the outdoor elements. We need to do this to remain comfortable and to maintain energy efficiency, but fortunately, you don’t have to sacrifice either of these benefits to mitigate the radon risk.
The presence of radon depends on underground geology and varies from place to place even over very short distances. It can also vary over time. If your home has been affected in the past, or you live in an area where radon is known to be a danger, it’s important to test periodically.
Should You be Worried?
How worried you should be about radon in your home, or in a home that you are considering buying, depends on the concentrations of radon in the indoor air. Although water can also be tested for radon, it is easiest to detect in air. If the air had high radon levels, testing water from underground wells is a logical next step.
Scientists have determined what levels of radon we need to be concerned about, and when the gas reaches these levels, radon mitigation systems can be installed. These will vent the gas out of the home, keeping the indoor air safe to breathe.
The only way to know for sure whether your home’s indoor air carries an unsafe load of radon gas is to have it tested. Fortunately, radon testing is not expensive, and the installation of mitigation systems isn’t terribly costly either. If you are buying a new home, or are unsure as to whether your existing home is affected, testing is the first step towards peace of mind.