Environmental Protection

Testing Homes for Radon Can Save Lives

During January, National Radon Action Month, EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General urge Americans to test their homes for radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas that claims tens of thousands of lives each year.

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking in the United States and in the world. When radon is trapped in buildings and concentrations build up indoors, exposure becomes a concern. Breathing indoor air with radon can damage lung tissue and lead to cancer.

"Many people are not aware that breathing radon can cause lung cancer, but the science is strong," said EPA Region 3 Administrator Donald S. Welsh. "Radon-related deaths can be prevented. Our hope is that people will understand the potential health risk and test their homes for radon and fix any problems they find."

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women in the United States, greater than breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. One in five women diagnosed with lung cancer has never smoked. Of the approximate 17,500 to 20,000 never-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States each year, more than 60 percent of them are women.

The National Academy of Sciences and EPA estimate that in the United States, radon in homes causes 21,100 lung cancer deaths each year, and 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who never smoked.

Perhaps homes have not been tested because you can't see, smell or taste radon. Yet, it may be the most potent carcinogen in your home. Although testing for radon is encouraged when selling or buying a home, recent consumer research indicates that up to 80 percent of American homes still need to be tested for radon. The good news is a simple home radon test, costing less than $25, can detect it.

Radon is naturally occurring and comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks entering homes through cracks in basements and foundations and floor drains. Radon can build to unhealthy levels, especially during colder months when windows and doors are kept closed.

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