The leading cause of lung cancer is an easy one. (You did know that it’s smoking, right?) But the second leading cause of lung cancer is a bit more mysterious.
It’s colorless, odorless and tasteless and it’s probably seeping into your house right now as you read this!
OK, I didn’t mean to alarm you. The second leading cause of lung cancer in the world isn’t as scary as you might think but you should educate yourself on it. Luckily, I’m here to help you.
It’s something called radon gas. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?
Yes, radon! It’s a naturally occurring radioactive gas found just about everywhere. Radon is produced by decaying uranium, which gives it its radioactivity.
Radon constantly seeps up through the ground. When it gets released into the open air, it isn’t anything that people need to worry about. But when it seeps into a dwelling like a house, it can accumulate in large quantities and this can cause some potentially serious problems.
It seeps into your home through cracks in your foundation walls and floors or it can get in through gaps around pipes and cables and accumulates mostly in basements and in crawl spaces, the places that are closest to the ground.
Is it dangerous?
There is no immediate danger posed by radon. Let’s get that out-of-the-way first. The danger posed by radon is when too much of it accumulates in your house over a long period (we’re talking years here, by the way).
As radon decays, it produces what is known as decay products. When you breathe in radon and its decay products, they break down further inside your lungs and emit alpha particles (don’t worry too much about the technical terms). These alpha particles release tiny bursts of energy in your lungs, which are absorbed by the lung tissue. This results in damage or death of lung cells and when lung cells are damaged, they have the potential to produce cancer cells when they reproduce.
This is how radon has the dubious distinction of being the second leading cause of lung cancer. It does take many years between the time of exposure to excess radon and the onset of lung cancer. Not all people who are exposed to excessive levels of radon contract lung cancer but your risk of contracting it goes up if you’ve been exposed to radon at excessive levels for long periods of time and it goes way up for smokers in that situation (if you needed yet another reason to quit that disgusting habit).
Your risk of developing lung cancer from radon exposure depends on the concentration of radon in the air you breathe and the length of time you are exposed to it.
When is radon at excessive levels in my home?
Radon is measured in becquerel per cubic meter. A becquerel is the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. (You know there’s going to be a quiz, right?)
Typical homes will have somewhere around 100 Bq/m3 of radon and that’s fine. It doesn’t really pose a risk to you at that level. In fact, you’re okay with up to 200 Bq/m3 of it in your home. When radon levels reach 200 Bq/m3, though, you need to reduce the level of radon in your home. If the level is between 200 – 600 Bq/m3 you start reduction procedures within two years and if it’s over 600 Bq/m3 you should start reduction procedures within one year.
How do I test the radon level in my home?
There are a whole bunch of different radon test kits out there on the market. You just have to look. Follow the manufacturer’s directions and the test should show you the level of radon in your home.
Alternately, you can also hire a certified radon professional to come in and conduct tests.
The amount of radon in a home can vary drastically from day-to-day or even room to room depending on ventilation and seasonal changes. Radon is more concentrated in homes in the autumn and winter months because this is usually when homes are less ventilated due to the cold weather. This is also the best time to test.
So how do I get rid of it?
For this, you’ll want to consult with a certified radon professional.
Sub-slab depressurization is the most common way to rid your home of excess radon. It involves embedding a sealed pipe into the concreted of your basement and having this pipe lead up through the house and outside somewhere, either through a side wall or through the ceiling. The pipe also has an exhaust fan installed near the exit point, which draws the radon up from the soil and disperses it harmlessly outside. Sub-slab depressurization can reduce the amount by of radon in your home by up to 90%.
Other ways of reducing radon that can be effective are increasing the ventilation in a home and sealing up cracks and gaps where radon is entering the home. Each home is different of course so you should consult with a certified radon professional before making any decisions on how best to handle the situation with your home.
You may have noticed the word ‘certified’ popping up there a bit. As with any major home decisions, it’s important to be dealing with certified professionals (but you already knew that, right?) to make sure everything is being done correctly.
Okay, now you know all you need to know about radon. Test your home and make sure you and your family are not at any undue risk for the future.