Radon and Cancer

Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Is it seeping into your basement? And your lungs?

You can't see or smell it, but radon gas may be entering your basement through the soil around and under the foundation. Once inside, radon binds to dust particles in the air you breathe, and can cause lung cancer.

Radon levels can be elevated in New Hampshire basements like this one and cause toxic exposure to a family

It's easy to protect your family from increased lung cancer risk by testing for radon gas in your basement.

Radon gas permeates one in three homes in New Hampshire to the extent that that the radon level can be classified as "elevated" by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. A colorless, odorless gas, radon is often found in basements. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco smoke worldwide.

How does radon gas get into my basement?

Radon gas is released as the radioactive mineral called uranium-238 decays in the rocks and soil underneath a house. It can seep in through the basement and foundation and attach to dust particles in the air inside. When inhaled, radon particles generate radiation that damages cells in the lung and can increase your risk of lung cancer. Radon is not just trapped in soil—radon gas can also be found in your home's water source, although this is usually a minor source of risk compared to radon exposure from soil.

Why is radon gas linked to increased lung cancer risk?

When there are high levels of radon gas in the home the risk of lung cancer may increase by 29 percent. If your home has high radon levels and you smoke—or live with a smoker—your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

Smokers are more susceptible to radon gas related lung cancer, since the damage caused by tobacco smoke may increase with radon exposure. Smoking in the home creates more particulates in the air for radon to bind to, potentially increasing exposure and risk for everyone, including children. Some people may have inherited genetic factors that make them particularly susceptible to radon-related lung cancers.

How do I know if there is radon in my basement?

Radon levels in your home are easy to test, and testing kits are available through home improvement stores and agencies like National Radon Program Services. Radon testing is recommended for all New Hampshire homes. The U.S. Surgeon General and the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF) recommend that all residences below the third floor level be tested.

Different types of tests measure the amount of radon in the air:

  • A short-term evaluation can be performed by placing a charcoal canister test device in the lowest living area of the home, usually for about a week.
  • Long-term tests, over a 3 to 12 month period, provide a more accurate estimate of exposure because levels fluctuate over time. Long-term assessments should include the winter months, when radon may accumulate in higher levels because houses are sealed to minimize heat loss.
How to reduce radon levels in your home

If you find elevated radon levels in your home, sealing the basement with plastic sheeting and caulking cracks can help prevent radon gas entry, but these measures are not usually sufficient over time. Installing pipes and exhaust fans can vent the radon gas from the home. The National Radon Program Services estimates that the average cost for a contractor to lower radon levels in a home is about $1,200.

Learn more about how to test for elevated radon gas levels in your home, and what to do if you have a problem:

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October 07, 2013