Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas present in rocks and soil. It can accumulate in buildings and can cause lung cancer. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates 21,000 Americans die each year from radon-induced lung cancer, killing more people than secondhand smoke, drunk driving, falls in the home, drowning or fires in the home. The EPA recommends citizens mitigate their homes for radon, if radon levels reach 4 picoCuries per liter of air (pCi/l) or higher. According to experts, living in a home with an average radon level of 4 pCi/l poses a similar risk of developing lung cancer to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.
In Nevada, elevated radon levels have been found in one in four homes tested. Radon can enter any home, old or new, well-sealed or drafty. Homes with slabs, crawl spaces or basements are all susceptible. Variables that determine radon levels include how the home was constructed, lifestyle factors and the strength of the radon source near or beneath the house. The only way to know a building's radon level is to test. If high levels of radon are found, there is a way to reduce or mitigate radon levels.
Radon-induced lung cancer is highly preventable. A simple three-day test can determine if a house has a radon problem. University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's (UNCE) radon education program is offering FREE radon test kits through February at UNCE offices statewide. Winter is an ideal time to test a home for radon because when a home is closed up during cool weather months, radon concentrations typically increase. Testing should be repeated every two years.
One can't predict which homes will have high radon levels, as two neighboring homes can have vastly different radon levels. Therefore, UNCE, EPA and the Nevada State Health Division urge all Nevadans to get their homes tested for radon. You can pick up your free test kit at 1329 Waterloo Lane in Gardnerville.
For more information, attend a free radon workshop Feb. 12, 6:30 p.m. at the Carson City Sheriff's office, Ormsby Room, 911 East Musser Street, Carson City. Visit the Nevada Radon Education Program website, www.RadonNV.com, or call the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension radon education coordinator at 336-0248.
Not everyone exposed to radon will get lung cancer, but the greater the amount of radon and the longer the exposure, the greater the risk of developing lung cancer.
JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 887-2252.