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January 16, 2012

Clean Air Monday

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the noble gas radon is present at dangerous levels in 1 out of every 15 homes. As the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States (behind smoking), and an environmental factor that causes more deaths (21,000) per year than drunk driving (13,470), based on statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon can have serious human health implications.

Radon is radioactive, and it and its radioactive decay products give off ionizing radiation. This radiation is what causes damage when inhaled. Radon is the byproduct of the natural decay of uranium in the soil. It can come into any home, new or old, as well as those with or without basements, through cracks and holes in the foundation.

As radon cannot be sensed by our eyes, ears, or nose, the EPA and Surgeon General recommend radon testing for all homes, and for apartments below the third floor. You can either test your home yourself (with a kit available in hardware stores) or by hiring a qualified tester. The first step you should take is a short-term test (between 2-90 days). If the result is 4 pCi/L (a measure of radon concentration in air) or higher, the EPA recommends a follow-up test (either a second short-term test or a longer-term test). If both tests result in a radon level higher than 4 pCi/L, be sure to hire a qualified contractor to remediate your home. As a carcinogen, any level of radon is dangerous, so you may decide to remediate your home even at radon levels below 4 pCi/L.

For more information on radon testing, risks due to radon, and professional radon contractors, visit the EPA website.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.