Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is the primary cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers and the secondary cause for smokers. Over time, living in a home with an elevated level of radon increases the residents' risk of developing lung cancer. As radon decays, solid particles are released, easily breathed in and deposited in the lungs. The radiation that the particles release can either kill lung cells or damage the lung cell's DNA, which can result in abnormal cells and lead to lung cancer.
The action level for radon, the level where the health risk necessitates fixing, is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/l) of air. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one in 15 homes nationwide has an elevated level of radon (a level at or above the action level). One in four households tested in Nevada have levels at or above 4 pCi/l. All homes should be tested every two years, before or after remodeling, after installing a radon mitigation system, and after significant seismic activity.
If elevated radon concentrations are found, can it be fixed?
Testing is the beginning of prevention, and if test results indicate elevated radon levels, there are other steps needed to reduce the risk of lung cancer. More testing may be required to confirm the initial test results. If the follow-up tests confirm elevated radon concentrations, then radon mitigation is recommended.
Radon mitigation is best done by certified radon professionals licensed by the Nevada State Contractors Board. Hiring such an individual will help to ensure that the mitigation is done properly and safely according to industry standards, and the level of radon in your home is reduced below the action level. The cost, averaging $2,500 to $3,800, is minimal compared to the health and monetary cost of lung cancer.
Can houses be built to prevent radon from entering?
Another method of prevention is to build radon systems in new homes, from the ground up. Adding radon control methods to new home construction is called Radon-Resistant New Construction (RRNC) and involves several materials that many builders already use. An EPA publication, Building Radon Out, is available on the Nevada radon website, RadonNV.com. More information is available on the EPA RRNC website. RRNC is a cost-effective prevention method that works by isolating radon and other soil gases before they enter the living space, and then removing them using a fan and pipe system that releases the gases outside above the roof.
Since January is National Radon Action Month, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's Radon Education Program is offering free short-term radon test kits to Nevadans from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28. Test kits can be obtained at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and partnering locations across the state, as well as at educational presentations offered in January and February. Test kits can be ordered by mail for a $4 shipping fee at RadonNV.com.
For more information on radon, call 888-RADON10 (888-723-6610).
Susan Howe is the program director of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s Radon Education Program, a grant-funded program supported by the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health. A graduate of the University of Dayton, she has administered the outreach program to educate Nevadans about the radon health risk since 2008.