Why it needs to be
The last time you heard about radon was probably when you bought a house. A radon test may or may not have been done, and it probably never crossed your mind again. But radon should be taken seriously — it’s the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the No. 2 cause of lung cancer deaths.
Living in the Ohio Valley puts us at a higher risk of exposure to radon than some other areas of the country. In particular, Jefferson, Bullitt and Nelson counties in Kentucky have high potential for elevated radon levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Surrounding counties have moderate potential. Nationwide, nearly one out of every 15 homes is estimated to have elevated radon levels.
So what is radon? It’s a radioactive gas that comes from the natural decay of uranium found in soil. It typically moves up through the ground and can get into homes through cracks in the foundation or floors, construction joints, gaps around pipes and even the water supply. The home traps the radon, where it can build up.
“The health hazard does not come directly from radon itself, but from the radioactive particles that are emitted as radon decays,” said Jenny Frantz, R.N., lung cancer patient navigator with Norton Cancer Institute. “Those particles can be inhaled into the lung and bombard the cells with cancer-causing radiation.”
Radon cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. Therefore, it’s extremely important to get your home tested whether you own, rent or live in an apartment. Testing is simple and inexpensive, and kits are available at most hardware stores. In addition, the Kentucky Radon Program offers free test kits to some residents. Find out if you qualify.
Lowering radon levels can be simple and inexpensive or more complex, costing more. If you are planning major renovations, such as converting an unfinished basement into living space, test for radon before you begin renovations. Inexpensive construction techniques can be used if you have radon. Major renovations can alter radon levels, so test again after work’s been completed.
“Unfortunately there is no test to determine if a person has been exposed to radon,” Frantz said. “Having your home tested is the first step. If you are a smoker and have been exposed to high levels of radon, it is important that you quit smoking. The combination of cigarette smoking and radon exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer. Talk with your doctor about getting regular health checkups to look for signs of lung cancer. Possible symptoms include a new or worsening cough, coughing up blood, shortness of breath, wheezing, hoarseness or unexplained weight loss.”