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Danger Lurking in Your Home? How Radon Levels Can Hurt Your Health

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If you’ve sold or purchased a home recently, you likely heard the word “radon” mentioned in conjunction with the sale of the home.

Although radon testing isn’t required by law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highly recommends it. Most home sales don’t proceed until radon levels are checked. The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General also recommend regular testing for radon in every home.

But what is radon, and why should we test for it? Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about radon.

What is Radon?

Radon is a radioactive gas. It’s caused by the breakdown of uranium in the soil, rock, and water below the Earth’s surface. The gas is completely odorless, colorless, and tasteless. Radon occurs naturally outdoors, but it dissipates into the air. However, when it gets into our homes, it gets trapped, and we breathe it in without realizing it.

How does the radon get in the house?

Radon can seep into our homes through any openings through:

Radon levels are usually the highest in crawl spaces and basements since they’re normally below ground level. With homes being sealed up more tightly during the colder months, any radon gas that seeps into the house becomes trapped.

Need a radon home test kit?

Virginia Department of Health offers Virginia residents home kits for $3. Fill out a quick form to get your radon kit.

Why are high levels of radon dangerous?

When we breathe in radioactive radon gas, it goes directly to our lungs. The radiation can damage the lining of the lungs, increasing our risk of lung cancer.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers, responsible for an estimated 20,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to the American Cancer Society®.

Although there are no specific symptoms of radon exposure, symptoms of possible lung cancer include:

See your doctor if you experience these symptoms.

Nurse practitioner Aimee Strong is a program coordinator for the UVA Lung Cancer Screening Program. She shares that if you've been exposed to radon and smoke, or you previously smoked, your risk of lung cancer is even higher. 

"It's important to know if you live in a location that has high levels of radon, and it is important to know if your house has high levels of radon in it, especially if your house is older," Strong says.

But isn’t radon only a problem in old houses with basements and in certain areas of the country?

Radon gas can be present in any home, old or new. It doesn’t matter if the home is sealed up tight or very drafty, or whether there’s a basement or not. Even brand new houses with radon-resistant features can have higher than normal levels of radon.

Some areas of the country are more likely to have higher radon levels than others. But radon can be found in homes in every state, including Virginia.

Lung Cancer Screening

We offer lung cancer screenings with a low-dose CT scan. See if you qualify for this screening.

How can I find out if my home has high levels of radon?

"Luckily, radon is pretty easy to test for. You can buy a home test kit at the hardware store or local home improvement stores," Strong says.

There are a number of special tests available for determining if your home has a radon level higher than 4 pCI/L (4 picocuries per liter). You can purchase a do-it-yourself kit for about $30 or a radon detector for about $100.

You can also hire a professional radon measurement specialist, which is what the EPA recommends.

What can I do if there are elevated radon levels in my home?

You can reduce radon levels in the home in several ways. Some methods try to prevent more radon from entering in the first place. For instance, soil suction draws out the radon from underneath the house and vents it out into the air.

Other techniques work to reduce high levels of radon that are already trapped inside. These include fans, additional ventilation, and the sealing of cracks. The National Radon Safety Board maintains a searchable database of certified radon specialists in your area who can help.

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