Your home and a uranium mine may have something in common. That something is radon, an invisible gas that causes lung cancer. Here's the story.
At the turn of the 20th century, people noticed that uranium miners often died early and had high rates of lung cancer. Scientists were later able to link that lung cancer to radon gas, a radioactive gas occurring naturally as a decay product of uranium.
Eventually occupational limits were established for radon concentrations in uranium mines. Yet radon gas doesn't occur only in underground mines.
In the mid-1980s, researchers discovered that homes had high levels of radon, too. Radon occurs naturally, but they found that inside homes the radon concentrated to high and dangerous levels. Multiple studies in the mid-2000s found that high levels of radon in homes could cause lung cancer for those residents.
You see, uranium in the soil and rock underground breaks down to form radon. As radon decays, it releases radioactive byproducts that are inhaled and can cause lung cancer. So radon isn't only in uranium mines, but is found all over our planet, and can enter a home through cracks in the walls, basement floors, foundations and other openings, and can build up to dangerous concentrations.
You may not suspect that radon is in the home because it is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas. Yet radon is actually the second-leading cause of lung cancer.
The EPA estimates 1 in 15 homes have harmful levels of radon gas. And radon causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. But once again, since you can't smell, see or taste the gas, you may be unaware that radon is present in your home at dangerous levels. Just like those uranium miners.