January is Radon Awareness Month. Now is the time for homeowners to learn more about radon and where it could be lurking in their home. Identifying, properly mitigating and preventing further exposure to this hazardous material, are important parts to keeping a healthy living environment. The following article will offer comprehensive information on how to start this year off strong, by ensuring readers know how to improve air quality and maintain a healthy living space.
What Is Radon?
Radon is an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally and is extremely harmful to humans when exposed. Radon comes from the breakdown of radioactive metals such as radium, uranium or thorium that is present in rocks and soil. When radon travels up from the ground where it can then seep through cracks and holes in foundations and enter the living space, it becomes a problem for homeowners.
Radon can also seep into water sources. When the area of land surrounding an underground water source containing radioactive metals breaks down, it has the potential to release radon into the water supply as well.Radon-contaminated water is harmful for people to drink, shower or wash their hands. When this occurs, water has the ability to release radon into the air, making it harmful in any form of contact.
What’s the Risk?
Considering the damage radon can have on one’s health, it should be managed and avoided to a great extent. However, as a naturally occurring gas, it’s present throughout the US. It is estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that 1 of every 15 homes contains elevated radon levels. Exposure to high amounts of this radioactive gas has proven to be extremely hazardous and may cause serious health complications years later. For example, short term exposure will induce radon symptoms, including:
- Persistent cough
- Shortness of breath
- Frequent chest pain (especially when you cough or laugh)
- Coughing up blood
- Frequent infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia
Repeated or potent radon exposure is now being attributed to several serious health conditions that develop years after exposure. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are approximately 22,000 lung cancer deaths related to radon in the United States each year. Statistics like this are what makes radon the second leading cause of lung cancer. Both smokers and non-smokers are at risk for lung cancer when exposed, yet smokers are at a higher risk due to compromised respiratory systems. Prognosis for lung cancer varies on which stage the disease is caught by a practicing medical professional, but is life-threatening in any case. With treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or surgery, the disease is manageable but still lethal in many cases.
Unfortunately, radon is not the only toxin that can be found dangerous in a home. In order to ensure a safe living environment it’s important to be educated on what other hazards exist. Below is a list of other hazards to be wary of:
- Mold can be present in a wide variety of places in the home that are not properly ventilated. Common symptoms of exposure include, congestion, frequent infections like bronchitis and pneumonia and neurological problems.
- Asbestos exposure could cause anything from manageable allergic reactions to more severe respiratory issues. Mesothelioma and asbestosis are two diseases directly correlated to asbestos exposure. Both conditions present themselves years after initial exposure, which often causes misdiagnosis early on as minor symptoms present themselves.
- Carbon Monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can induce flu-like symptoms, headaches, faintness, disorientation and even death due to prolonged exposure. A study actually shows the month of January is the deadliest month of CO poisoning.
- Banned in 1978, lead paint is extremely dangerous. Lead poisoning causes decreased brain function, behavioral disorders, flu like symptoms and hearing loss. While it is more common in older homes, be wary of the paints and wallpapers in your home.
If interested, there are several at-home testing kits for various hazards available to the public. However, if a homeowner or a resident suspects a high level of radon or any other toxin in the home, they should contact a professional to test the area and air quality immediately. Other personal precautions that can be taken are monitoring general health with annual check-ups, quitting smoking and reading more about radon and other potential hazards that could be lurking in your home.