Now that 2017 has passed, make this the year you improve your health with some new preventative measures. One step that is easy and doesn’t involve eating kale is testing your home for radon, a naturally occurring, radioactive gas that increases your risk of lung cancer when you are exposed to it.
Radon is the primary cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers and the secondary cause for smokers, ending an estimated 21,000 lives a year in the U.S. 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.
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, and after significant seismic activity.
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 a certified radon professional licensed by the Nevada State Contractors Board. Hiring such an individual will help 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.
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.
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.
To help Nevadans improve their health, short-term test kits are free from Jan. 1 to Feb. 28 in honor of National Radon Action Month. 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 kit locations and a list of presentations are available at www.RadonNV.com. For a kit or 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. Have questions about your landscape or plants? Contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org.