Odorless, Colorless – and Deadly

Radon gas is a hazard you should find before it finds you.

Becky Turpin is the Director of Home and Community for the National Safety Council.

For decades, packs of cigarettes have had warning labels on them, such as "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease." But what if the same language was stamped on your own front door?

That's the danger radon gas can bring into a home. With Radon Awareness Month recognized in January, this is the perfect time to make sure this silent killer hasn't taken root around your family.

Radon is a radioactive gas derived from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water, and it seeps into homes and buildings in a variety of ways. Experts estimate between 15,000 and 22,000 people die each year in the United States from lung cancer caused by radon.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which designated January as Radon Awareness Month, encourages testing for radon this month in homes, schools, business and other buildings. The EPA projects one of every 15 homes in the nation has elevated levels of radon, putting occupants at risk of lung cancer. In some homes, one doctor has remarked, the radon level can be so high that living there is the equivalent of smoking one to two packs of cigarettes a day.

Fortunately, there are ways to determine the level of radon in a building and to mitigate the radon, substantially reducing the danger to occupants.

The EPA offers information on radon test kits (available at home improvement or hardware stores) and on accredited contractors that can take measurements of radon levels. The agency also offers information on how radon can be managed by venting it out of a home or building, sealing cracks in floors and walls, or increasing ventilation.

I have some first-hand experience in such repairs, but they weren't to protect my own family. When I bought my first home, the radon level was either not found to be high or was not tested at all in our inspection. But when we tried to sell our house three years later, that inspection found the radon level to be elevated. We had to pay for abatement – and I had to live with the fact that my family had been living with poison in our home potentially for three years.

I hope you won't let your own family go through what mine did. By taking the time today to determine the level of radon in your home or business, you can prevent yourself, a colleague, a loved one or even a stranger from facing exposure to this cancer-causing poison.

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