Winter is a great time to test your home for this common, naturally occurring gas. Radon is found all over the U.S., and it's estimated that one in 15 homes nationally has elevated radon levels. Prolonged exposure to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer - in fact, it is the second-highest cause of lung cancer after smoking, and the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates annually 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. and 500 in Colorado can be attributed to exposure to radon in the home. About half the homes in Colorado have radon levels higher than deemed safe by the EPA, so it's in everyone's best interest to test their homes, whether old or new construction.
Radon is a byproduct of the natural decay of uranium found in almost all soils. Radon gas moves through the soil and into homes through gaps, cracks, joints, and other spaces in a home's foundation. It can also enter homes in well water. Once in the home, radon becomes trapped and can build up to dangerous levels. People are exposed to radon particles when they inhale the gas.
Because radon is colorless and odorless, the only way to detect it is through testing.
The testing process is simple and involves placing a test kit in the lowest level of the house that is regularly occupied.
Free test kits and education are available at San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado State University Extension of La Plata County. o be accurate, the tests need to be done under certain conditions, so talking to an expert at either of these agencies beforehand is recommended. Radon levels can vary greatly from home to home, so just because one home's test indicated a low level of radon does not mean radon levels in the house next door will also be low.
Low levels of radon are normal and do not need to be mitigated, but if testing indicates high levels of radon in a home, it's time to call a professional. Contractors who specialize in radon mitigation can install a ventilation system that will reduce radon buildup. With such a system in place, exposure to high levels of radon - and the associated risks from such exposure - will be greatly reduced.
If you haven't tested your home for radon, please do so soon. It's free, easy, and most importantly, good for your health.
For more information about radon and radon testing:
Colorado State University Extension of La Plata County at (970) 382-6461.
San Juan Basin Public Health (970) 335-2030, www.sjbpublichealth.org/radon
Dr. Adam Owens is a family physician at Mercy Family Medicine in Bayfield.