It’s the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and is responsible for 20% of all lung cancer deaths. There’s almost certainly some radon in your home, but do you know how much? And how much is too much anyway? Today we’ve got a team of experts here to talk about this real health risk, and how you can keep your family safe with a few simple steps.
In this Episode
- CJ Anderson, Adventist Health
- Ed Hoover, Adventist Health
- Scott Burns, Portland Sate University
- Don Francis, EcoTech
- Tiffany Belser, American Lung Association
What is Radon?
Radon is a natural gas. It is produced as Uranium and Thorium decompose. Each of these elements breaks down to lead over time, and a series of daughter products. Radon is one of those products along the way. Radon gas is one of those products. It’s a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. It’s something that exists almost everywhere, and exposure to too much Radon can cause lung cancer over time. Certain environmental factors affect how much radon gas seeps out of our soil and certain construction processes, designed to keep our homes warm in the winter, may trap increased levels of radon gas in our homes.
Exposure to any radioactive materials can increase our risk for cancer. The EPA reports that 20% of all lung cancer deaths are a result of Radon exposure. If you are diagnosed with lung cancer your oncologist will likely ask you 1. Do you smoke? And 2. Have you tested your home for Radon?
If you smoke and are exposed to high levels or Radon your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
While we’ve known about radioactive gasses for more than 100 years, we have only known about the health hazards of Radon exposure since 1983.
Three factors that contribute to Radon exposure in your home
- Uranium and Thorium particles in the soil
- Precocity or Permeability: How easy is it for gasses to move freely through the soil. Are there air pockets, cracks or loose materials that make it easy for Radon to reach the surface?
- The construction of your home (or workplace). This includes (but is not limited to) cracks in the foundation, presence of a vapor barrier in the crawl space, presence of a basement.
North Portland and Vancouver generally have higher levels of Radon due the sands, silts and gravels from Idaho and British Columbia that were deposited here during the Great Missoula Floods. These materials contain a lot of granite, which releases more radon than the basalt bedrock, which is more common in our area. These course sediments also have a higher permeability, allowing the Radon gas to reach the surface more easily.
Another way to get highly permeable soil is through landslides. Homes that are built on areas where a landslide occurred are more likely to have increased Radon levels.
How to find your Radon level
Radon test kits are available through many local sources, starting at about $15. Generally a short term test involves leaving the kit in your home for 2-5 days, then send it in for testing and analysis. Your results will be a numeric value, with the magic number being 4. Anything above that number is considered high risk.
When testing your home it’s important to keep doors and windows closed as much as possible. That’s one reason why winter is an ideal time to test your home. Also, radon levels tend to be higher during the winter.
Dealing with high radon levels
If your home has high radon levels it’s possible to install a ventilation system to remove negative pressure. Think of it as your home being a large vacuum that sucks gasses (including Radon) up from the ground. These measures reduce that suction. In most cases this can be accomplished for a couple thousand dollars. This is certainly a significant cost, but pales in comparison to the financial (and physical) costs of a lung cancer diagnosis.
One of the key things to keep in mind is that Radon levels in your home are extremely subjective, so just because your neighbors have a high or low levels does not necessarily mean you levels are the same.
The bottom line is Radon is a real danger, but one you can easily test for and manage if needed. The real danger is not knowing your risk. For a few dollars every two years you can rest assured that your family is safe.
The Oregon Health Authority has a variety of resources including:
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Maps of known Radon risk areas (by zip code)
- Lists of Radon mitigation companies
Author: LivingWell PDX Blog
Adventist Health is committed to creating a healthier Portland community.