The Silent Killer in Your Home by James Lieske

Driving question -What is radon and what can be done to reduce unhealthy levels in our homes?

Radon is a radioactive gas released from the normal decay of the elements uranium, thorium, and radium in rocks and soil. It is an invisible, colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that seeps up through the ground and enters a home through cracks in walls and basement floors. Every home has radon. Radon is present in nearly all air. Everyone breathes in radon every day, usually at very low levels. However, people who inhale high levels of radon are at an increased risk of developing lung cancer. A high radon level is at or above the recommended radon action level of 4 picoCuries (pCi/L) per liter of air. (A picocurie is a unit for measuring radiation.) Exposure to elevated levels of radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after smoking. This topic is of particular interest to me because Fallsmead ES, which I just attended, has elevated levels of radon in the classrooms. I want to understand how this might affect the students and teachers and what can be done to fix the problem.
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How to detect and prevent radon in your home?

Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors. Radon levels can be higher in homes that are well insulated, tightly sealed, and/or built on soil rich in the elements uranium, thorium, and radium. The only way to detect a buildup of radon in your home is to test the air. Do-it-yourself test kits are simple and inexpensive, Do-it-yourself short-term tests typically take two to seven days and can be purchased at local hardware stores. Long-term tests tend to be more accurate. They take at least three months and can measure long-term averages. You should check for radon in your home every two year’s and always check immediately when you move into a new home. Basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels because of their closeness to the ground. If you find that your home has dangerous levels of radon, there is a solution. High levels of radon indoors can be lowered through a variety of repairs. From sealing the cracks in floors and walls, to changing the flow of air into the building, you can protect your family.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona warned the American public in 2005 about the risks of radon” "Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the county," Dr. Carmona said "It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques."

Why is radon in our homes dangerous and how does it affect you?

Radon can build up to dangerous levels inside homes, schools and other buildings. Everyone is exposed to radon at some level, but the levels vary greatly, not only from state to state and city to city but from home to home. It seeps from the ground into the air and, in indoor settings, can be inhaled. The guideline set out by the study is the higher the radon concentration, the higher the lung- cancer risk. Radon decays quickly, giving off tiny radioactive particles. When inhaled, these radioactive particles can damage the cells that line the lung. Elevated levels of Radon in your home has no immediate and obvious health symptoms. Long-term exposure to radon can lead to lung cancer. Exposure to the combination of radon gas and cigarette smoke creates a greater risk of lung cancer than exposure to either factor alone. The majority of radon-related cancer deaths occur among smokers. However, it is estimated that more than 10 percent of radon-related cancer deaths occur among nonsmokers

The video below highlights the importance of radon awareness. This silent killer is in elevated levels in one out every 15 homes nationwide.

Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year.

"We estimate radon contributes to about 12 percent of lung- cancer deaths each year in this country," making it the leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking, said Jonathan Samet, chair of the epidemiology department at Johns Hopkins University and the lead researcher on the study. "I would say to test your homes. I've tested mine."

I believe that Radon is a huge problem across the US because of lack of awareness. It is truly a silent killer that could be easily conquered with easy testing and simple low cost household repairs.

EPA's Radon Public Service Announcement