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This Invisible Danger in Your Home Could Hurt Your Health (And What to Do About It)

Updated: Sep 13, 2022

With everyone spending a whole lot more time inside, indoor air quality is more important than ever. Because the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) designates January as National Radon Action Month, it seems like the perfect time to remind you why testing for that particular pollutant is paramount.

Just so we’re all on the same page before we get into the particulars: Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally when uranium in the ground breaks down, entering homes through cracks in the foundation and other openings in the home. You can’t see it and you can’t smell it.

Radon is responsible for about 21,000 deaths each year nationally. In fact, it’s the leading cause of death from lung cancer among nonsmokers in the United States. 

Unfortunately, folks here in Pennsylvania need to be particularly vigilant when it comes to this home hazard because the Keystone State’s geology makes some locations in the commonwealth hotbeds for the stuff. Fortunately, exposure to radon is preventable.

The key is testing: And you don’t have to hire a certified professional to perform it (although you certainly could opt to do that) – you can do it yourself with the help of a simple, inexpensive testing kit. 

Bonus: Winter is the best time to test because doors and windows are closed, which provides more accurate results. Bigger bonus: The American Lung Association of Pennsylvania and DEP are currently providing radon testing kits at no cost throughout the month of January. You can get more info here.

If the testing reveals high levels of radon in your home (EPA recommends no more than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or more of the gas in your indoor air) it’s recommended that you install a radon-reduction system.

The radon-reduction systems usually involve the installation of a pipe and exhaust fan to vent the gas outdoors. While the remediation may be costly, experts say mitigating a radon leak could make the sale of your home go more smoothly in the future. 

It’s important to note that radon exposure isn’t just a health hazard at home – it’s also one at many schools. 

A recent survey indicated that 20 percent of schools have at least one classroom with high, short-term radon levels.

While the EPA does recommend all schools nationwide be tested for radon, only about 20 percent of schools have done so. This problem prompted about a dozen states to implement laws regarding radon exposure in schools. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania was not – and is not – among them. To learn more about radon in school, check out this helpful fact sheet from our friends at Women for a Healthy Environment.

You can learn more about radon, its health impacts, and mitigation measures on the EPA website. 

Editor’s Note: For more information on radon, and other common home hazards like asbestos and lead, and how you can prevent associated health impacts join GASP and a panel of experts at 6 p.m. Jan. 14.

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