Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. If you smoke and live in a home with high radon levels, you increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are at risk of high radon exposure.
Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally when uranium, thorium, or radium, which are radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater. People can be exposed to radon primarily from breathing radon in air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes. Because radon comes naturally from the earth, people are always exposed to it.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Surgeon General’s office estimate radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the U.S. When you breathe in radon, radioactive particles from radon gas can get trapped in your lungs. Over time, these radioactive particles increase the risk of lung cancer. It may take years before health problems appear.
People who smoke and are exposed to radon are at a greater risk of developing lung cancer. EPA recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes that have a radon level at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air (a “picocurie” is a common unit for measuring the amount of radioactivity).
Your chances of getting lung cancer from radon depend mostly on:
- How much radon is in your home–the location where you spend most of your time (e.g., the main living and sleeping areas)
- The amount of time you spend in your home
- Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked
- Whether you burn wood, coal, or other substances that add particles to the indoor air
The chances of getting lung cancer are higher if your home has elevated radon levels and you smoke or burn fuels that increase indoor particles.
Protect Yourself and Your Family from Radon
Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are exposed to high levels of radon. Steps you can take to measure and reduce radon levels include:
- Purchasing a radon test kit
- Testing your home or office
- Testing is inexpensive and easy — it should only take a few minutes of your time. It requires opening a package and placing a small measuring device in a room and leaving it there for the desired period. Short-term testing can take from a few days to 90 days. Long-term testing takes more than 90 days. The longer the test, the more relevant the results are to your home and lifestyle.
- Sending the kit to appropriate sources to determine radon level
- Follow the directions on the test kit packaging to find out where to send the device to get the results.
- Fixing your home if radon levels are high
More Ways to Take Action
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development[1 MB] recommends additional actions you can take to reduce high radon levels in your home and protect yourself from an increased risk of lung cancer.
- Stop smoking and discourage smoking in your home.
- Smoking significantly increases the risk of lung cancer from radon.
- Increase air flow in your house by opening windows and using fans and vents to circulate air.
- Natural ventilation in any type of house is only a temporary strategy to reduce radon.
- Seal cracks in floors and walls with plaster, caulk, or other materials designed for this purpose.
- Contact your state radon office for a list of qualified contractors in your area and for information on how to fix radon problems yourself. Always test again after finishing to make sure you’ve fixed your radon problem.
- Ask about radon resistant construction techniques if you are buying a new home.
- It is almost always cheaper and easier to build these features into new homes than to add them later.
For more information on testing your home, check with your state radon office or call the National Radon Hotline at 1-800-SOS-RADON.