Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and the leading cause among non-smokers.
Radon is a hazardous, colorless, odorless gas which may be lurking in your home or rental unit. A new law passed on January 1, 2012, that requires those seeking to rent property stay informed about radon levels in the properties they seek to rent. This law requires owners of rental units to inform prospective tenants, in writing, whether the rental space has been tested for radon and if a hazard exists. In light of this new law, we thought it might be helpful to answer some frequently asked questions about radon.
- What is radon?
Radon is a radioactive gas found in soil and rock throughout United States, including Illinois [Fact sheet]. It is formed by the natural decay of uranium and is undetectable by humans.
- How does radon enter the house?
Radon gas comes from the ground. As it leaks out of the earth, it can become trapped inside our homes. It enters our homes through water supplies, drains, construction joints, cracks, or other openings in the foundation. [Video]
- What is the health concern with radon exposure?
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles which can get trapped in your lungs as you breathe. As they break down further, these particles can damage the lung tissue. Chronic damage to lung tissue can lead to the development of lung cancer.
- Who is at risk of radon exposure?
Anyone chronically exposed to radon gas is at increased risk of developing lung cancer. If you are a smoker or a former smoker, your risk of getting lung cancer from radon is even greater. As mentioned above, radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., and the leading cause among non-smokers. According to the Respiratory Health Association, it is estimated that 20,000 deaths occur annually in the U.S. from radon induced lung cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, 1,200 radon-related lung cancer deaths occur each year in Illinois. If you quit smoking and lower radon levels in your home, you can reduce your risk of developing lung cancer.
- How can you measure radon levels?
Radon test kits are widely available for purchase. There are 2 types of tests. Short-term tests remain in your home for 2 days to 90 days, with the average test lasting between 2-7 days. Long-term tests remain in your home for longer than 90 days. The EPA recommends use of long-term radon tests because radon levels can vary from day to day. A short-term test will only give you a glimpse at the exposure levels. It is best to get an idea of what the average radon level is in your home over a long period of time. Radon levels are measured in “picocuries per liter” or “pCi/L”. All radon levels greater than 4.0 pCi/L require action to reduce the amount of exposure.
- Where are radon detection kits available?
A radon test kit can be purchased at most hardware and department stores for around $20. Be sure to buy a radon test-kit that has been approved by the EPA. The product will have an EPA seal of approval on the package. Instructions on using the radon kit will be provided within the packaging.
- What should you do if the radon measurement is high?
Some basic approaches to reduce radon in your home include sealing cracks and openings in the foundation. However, the EPA does not recommend sealing alone to limit radon entry because this has not been shown to lower radon levels significantly. In many cases, a radon removal system will need to be installed in the home. In most cases, a system with a vent pipe and fan is used to reduce radon. These “sub-slab depressurization” systems prevent radon gas from entering the home from below the concrete floor and from outside the foundation. Radon mitigation contractors may use other methods that will also work in your home. If the property is rented be sure to inform the landlord or owner of the elevated levels.
For additional information, contact:
Illinois Poison Center
Radon Fact Sheet
Illinois Emergency Management Agency
IEMA Toll-free Hotline
Respiratory Health Association
Phone: 1-888-880-LUNG (5864)
Tony Burda, IPC, Chief Certified Specialist of Poison Information
Nneka Nnamdi, Doctorate Of Pharmacy Candidate
Kevin Bajer, Doctorate Of Pharmacy Candidate