20,000 Americans Killed in Their Homes by Radon Last Year
This month, the World Health Organization released its mortality statistics--never a fun document to read. But one stat stood out, and was pounced on by the EPA: 20,000 Americans were killed from simply living in their homes last year. The culprit? The under-publicized--and underestimated--radioactive gas radon that emanates from rocks and soil. Radon kills more people every year than drunk driving, fires, and carbon monoxide.
In response to the statistics, the EPA has proposed making January the National Radon Awareness month. So here's some awareness: according to the Environmental Health Committee, radon is one of the most pervasive problems in the US--it's thought to be a risk in every single county in the nation.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. It's thought to be responsible for anywhere between 3% and 14% of lung cancer deaths.
And you could be breathing in radon right in your own home, as we speak: 80% of homes in the US have not been tested for radon. That isn't meant to be a scare tactic--it's just meant to be a bit of a wake up call. Radon is relatively easy and cheap to test for--it just takes a bit of effort. And a combination of lack of awareness and lack of effort is in essence leaving some 20,000 Americans dead every year.
How Radon Works
According to the Environmental Health Committee,
Radon is naturally occurring, odorless, and colorless gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Because radon is a gas, it can enter buildings through openings or cracks in the foundation. The radon gas itself decays into radioactive solids, called radon daughters. The radon daughters attach to dust particles in the air, and can be inhaled. The inhalation of radon daughters has been linked to lung cancer.
So how do you know if radon is a problem in your home? Simple--test it.
How to Stop Radon from Killing You
Use a test kit, or hire a professional to test for it. The WHO says:
Radon measurements are relatively simple to perform and are essential to assess radon concentration in homes. Indoor radon concentration varies with the construction of buildings and ventilation habits. These concentrations not only vary substantially with the season but also from day to day and even from hour to hour. Because of these fluctuations, estimating the annual average concentration of radon in indoor air requires reliable measurements of mean radon concentrations for at least three months and preferably longer. Short-term measurements provide only a crude indication of the actual radon concentration.
In short, assessing radon is difficult to do accurately--even by the experts. So test your home over a long period of time (3 months) to get the best idea.
Radon for Dummies
If you're in the dark about the properties and dangers of radon--and what we can do about it, this 4-minute PSA will bring you up to snuff on the basics:
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Admittedly, all this is a simple introduction to a threat that consistently flies relatively under the radar--for more comprehensive info, and for what you can do to rid your home of radon, the World Health Organization's report (pdf) and Radon Month online are both good resources.