Low-cost and easy-to-use radon tests can save lives

Each year, nearly 20,000 people die across the country from lung cancer caused by exposure to radon. A common, but completely avoidable, way people are exposed to radon can be in your own home – yet only one in five homeowners have actually tested for this colorless, odorless, naturally occurring gas.

In New England alone, it is estimated that nearly 1,000 preventable deaths occur each year due to this silent killer.

Radon is found in the soils beneath and around your home. A radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in bedrock, radon can accumulate to unsafe levels in homes by leaking in through cracks in building foundations.

Since it is invisible and odorless and thus undetectable to our senses, it can be easy to ignore. However, if radon does seep into your home and is trapped there, it can reach harmful levels.

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Nearly 80 percent of homes in the United States have not been tested for radon, even though a simple test costing as little as $25 can help detect a possible radon problem. And testing is the only way to know if your home contains high radon levels.

In fact, the U.S. surgeon general has issued a national radon health advisory recommending all homes be tested and fixed when elevated radon levels are found.
During the winter months especially, when our boilers and furnaces work all day, and we keep windows and doors sealed shut, radon is more likely to be drawn into the home from underground sources and stay there, reaching dangerous levels.

If the air in your house does have radon, don’t despair – it is not difficult to take steps to protect your family’s health. Dangerous radon levels are completely preventable and can be fixed at any time.

Consult with a qualified professional who can reduce radon exposure for a cost similar to many common home-improvement repairs. State experts, who work with EPA, can help you find a trained radon professional who can advise you how to reduce the radon levels in your home. Visit the R.I. Department of Health’s Web site for more information at www.health.ri.gov/environment/occupational/radon/.

Approximately one in four homes in New England has a radon problem. If you rent, ask the landlord if your home has been tested and ask for a copy of the results. If you are buying a home, this is also a great time to test and mitigate radon problems – before you move in.

Conversely, if you’re selling a home, think of the advantage being able to show prospective purchasers that your home has been tested or that the problem has been fixed.

New homes can be built with radon-resistant features which can be effective in reducing radon entry. When used properly, these simple and cost-effective techniques can help reduce the accumulation of radon gas in homes.

Remember – healthy homes make for healthy families. Test your home for radon. It’s a simple step to providing peace of mind and a healthy indoor environment.

Robert W. Varney is regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s New England office, in Boston.