If you can’t see it, smell it, or taste it, it can’t hurt you, right? Wrong! The second leading cause of lung cancer is radon- a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. It is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, and is responsible for about 21,000 deaths each year. Your risk of lung cancer is especially high if you smoke and your home has high levels of radon. Children are more sensitive to radon because their lungs are smaller and their respiratory rates are twice as high.
Radon is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in rock, soil, and groundwater. Exposures of radon can occur at home or at work. For most Americans, their greatest exposure to radon is in their homes, especially in rooms that are below grade (e.g., basements), rooms that are in contact with the ground, and those rooms immediately above them.
Radon may also be in the water you drink, but, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, only a small portion of the radon gas found in a home comes from the water supply. It is not necessary to test your water unless other remedies fail to reduce radon levels in the air. If you have not found radon in the air in your home, you do not need to be concerned about it being in your water.
Southeast Colorado has a high radon potential. In Colorado, half the homes have radon levels higher than the EPA recommended action level of 4 pCi/L. Since radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, it can only be detected if you test for it. Do-it-yourself test kits are often available at hardware or home improvement stores. If you are unable to find a test kit to purchase locally, you can also access a coupon for a test kit at a reduced cost at http://sosradon.org/test-kits, or you can get the coupon at any Otero County Health Department office. Since radon levels in a building can vary over time, EPA recommends testing every two years.
If testing shows your home has an elevated level of radon, the EPA recommends that you hire a qualified radon mitigation contractor. Lowering high radon levels requires specific technical knowledge and special skills. Without the proper equipment or technical knowledge, you could actually increase your radon level or create other potential hazards and additional costs. If, however, you decide to do the work yourself, get information on appropriate training courses and copies of EPA's technical guidance documents at epa.gov/radon. A booklet is also available on that website on how to select a qualified contractor to reduce the radon levels in your home, determine an appropriate radon reduction method, and maintain your radon reduction system.
Indoor Air Quality publications can be ordered from:
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP)
P.O. Box 42419
Cincinnati, OH 45242-0419
Fax: (301) 604-3408