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Do You Know Your Radon Levels?

Remember to Check for This Hidden Health Risk During Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month

View of an empty living room

It's hard to be choosy about where to live when you’re in need of an affordable rental—especially if you're on a student budget and need a place fast.

That's how I found myself shelling out cash for a small basement studio with tiny windows, one sticky, humid summer some years ago. It was just for a few months, I told myself, and the location was great. I’d fill my days with outdoor activities and barely be there. As long as it was a safe place to rest my head at night, what else mattered?

What I didn't consider was that safety comes in many forms. It's not just about low neighborhood crime rates and good locks on the doors—what's indoors matters just as much, as October's Indoor Air Quality Awareness Month reminds us.

As I hastily signed the lease, I scanned a paragraph written in confusing legalese letting me know that high radon levels had been found in other buildings in the area—particularly in units closer to ground level. Having never heard of radon before, I disregarded it and signed anyway. But later that night, I scanned the internet out of curiosity.

Radon, I learned, is a naturally occurring radioactive gas emitted from the ground. It is colorless, tasteless and odorless. Exposure to very low concentrations, like those found outdoors, is impossible to avoid. However, when radon gets trapped indoors—after entering a home through joints in walls, basement floors, foundations and other openings—it may concentrate at dangerous levels. And exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, responsible for an estimated 21,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Panicked, I called my new landlord and asked when the unit was last tested for radon, only to be informed it had never been tested.

Young and unsure what do to next, I gave up and hoped for the best. I moved out after a few short months, and only years later did I learn about the importance of radon testing for everyone and resources that can help renters like myself. In fact, the EPA has all kinds of information to help just about everyone—individuals, families, home and building owners, schools and more. Check it out at EPA.gov/radon.

Who Should Test for Radon?

It's not just renters and homeowners that should be concerned about radon. Do you work out in a basement gym? Do your kids play in a ground-level gymnasium at school or daycare? It's worth asking when the last radon test was conducted.

Folks living and working in higher-up spaces may want to raise the issue, too. Every home should be tested for radon. Radon has been found at elevated levels in homes in every state and the only way to know is to test. Your home can have elevated levels of radon while your neighbor's home does not.

Testing is the only way to determine if you have a problem. As I now know, radon testing is easy and inexpensive, and it could save your life. Thousands of lung cancer deaths could be avoided each year if more of us—whether homeowners, renters, or simply concerned residents—acted to test and take steps to lower radon levels.

Testing for Radon

Radon can enter a building through cracks in walls, basement floors, foundations and other openings. The only way to detect harmful levels of radon is to test the air. You can do this with inexpensive do-it-yourself kits or continuous monitors. Keep in mind, though, that levels can change from year to year—and vary greatly seasonally.

That's why Airthings—a manufacturer of indoor air quality products that monitor and identify radon levels—is an advocate of continuous monitoring of radon. To help raise awareness for the importance of radon testing and support lung cancer research, Airthings is donating $1 from each Corentium Home and Airthings Wave sold on Airthings.com through September 30, 2019, with a minimum donation of $25,000 to the American Lung Association's LUNG FORCE initiative.

Reducing Radon Exposure

The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action to reduce radon levels indoors if concentrations exceed 4 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L)  and urges people to consider fixing their homes if the levels range between 2 and 4 pCi/L. If you find high levels of radon in your home, reach out to your state radon program to seek a certified contractor to make the repairs to decrease radon levels.— Continuous radon monitors also allow you to track the system's ongoing performance.

Detailed information about reducing radon in your home or building can be found in EPA's Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction.  

Radon may seem scary, but starting with proper testing, you can take proven steps to protect your health. Remember, knowledge is power. Ask about testing the places you and your family live, work and play today.

This content was developed in partnership with Airthings.

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Related Topic: Healthy Air


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