Test Your Home for Radon

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

You can't see, taste, or smell radon gas, but it may pose a cancer risk in your home.

A natural radioactive breakdown product of uranium, radon gas is the second most common cause of lung cancer. An estimated 12% of lung cancer deaths are attributed to radon gas, or 15,000 to 22,000 deaths annually in the U.S. Each year, more Americans are killed by radon-related lung cancer than by drunk drivers, home fires, or drownings. As with asbestos exposure, smoking also greatly increases the risk of lung cancer with radon exposure.

Radon gas results from the breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks, and water. It gets into the air we breathe and enters buildings through cracks or holes in the foundation, drains, pipes, cracks in walls, or other openings. Any type of home - new or old, well-insulated, with or without a basement - can have dangerous radon levels. Although soil is the main source of radon in homes, it may also enter from the home's water supply. Radon is found throughout the U.S., and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. contains dangerous levels of radon gas.

Testing your home for radon is easy and takes only minutes. There are many do-it-yourself radon test kits available in hardware stores, or you can hire a qualified tester to test for radon in your home (your state radon office maintains a list of qualified testers). Should your home test positively for high levels of radon, radon reduction systems have been designed that are fairly inexpensive. Most commonly, a ventilation system with fan is installed that pulls radon away from the home's foundation and vents it to the outside. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%, and even very high radon levels can be effectively reduced.

For more information about radon, please read the MedicineNet.com "Radon FAQs article."


Last Editorial Review: 1/18/2005