Natural odorless gas can cause lung cancer can be found in homes, offices It’s a well-known fact that smoking can lead to lung cancer. The answer to lung cancer prevention seems simple – just don’t smoke or be around a person while he or she smokes. Another leading cause of lung cancer has nothing to do with cigarette smoke but rather with a natural gas that you can’t see, smell or taste – radon. “There is a background amount when you are outside, but it’s when it gets trapped in a building that it gets to higher levels, or elevated levels, that can then cause the lung cancer,” said Richelle Tolton, the radon coordinator at South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Tolton also adds that radon puts smokers at a higher risk of developing lung cancer.
Why we are at risk? Radon is a radioactive gas that is created when uranium in soil, rock and water naturally decays, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or the EPA. The substance can leak into any home, office or school and mainly emits from soil. “It typically moves up through the ground to the air above and into your home through cracks and other holes in the foundation,” states the EPA. Although it’s less likely, radon can infect your water supply. If your water comes from the surface, you are typically safe. That means if you are using a public water system, you should be in the clear, according to SC DHEC.
The real risk comes from using ground water from such sources as private wells. “Most of your risk from radon in water comes from radon released into the air when water is used for showering and other household purposes,” states the EPA. “Research has shown that your risk of lung cancer from breathing radon in air is much larger than your risk of stomach cancer from swallowing water with radon in it.” Those with further concerns about radon in water supplies can call EPA’s Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.
How you can assess the issue The only way to determine if you and your loved ones have a radon problem is to test the radon levels. “Testing is easy and should only take a few minutes of your time,” states the EPA. “Short-term tests offer a quick and cheap way to test for radon … and take from two to 90 days (depending on the device used),” states SC DHEC’s website. “Long-term tests stay in place for more than 90 days. The results from a long-term test give a better picture of your family’s actual radon exposure.” The levels are measured in picocuries per liter, or pCi/L. Regular indoor levels usually sit around 1.3 pCi/L.
If you discover your environment has four or more pCi/L, the EPA recommends hiring a professional to get the level lowered. While there are different methods that can be used, the main one is a soil suction radon reduction system. The system operates by a vent pipe system and fan taking the radon from underneath the building and transporting it outside. No major changes need to be done on your home or business for the system to function, and it’s not the only option available. “The right system depends on the design of your home and other factors,” states the EPA. Tolton adds that if you had radon testing done a few years back and have since amended some of the building’s features then you would need to redo the test. “Those changes could impact how (the radon) is being trapped,” she said. Elevated radon levels are said to affect an estimated one out of every 15 home in the U.S.