Smoking cigarettes is the #1 cause of lung cancer deaths – but decades of public health information probably already made you aware of this.
What you may find more surprising is why non-smokers can be diagnosed with lung cancer, even without regular exposure to second-hand smoke. The common cause for non-smoking related lung cancer is radon gas, which can be found at dangerous levels inside your own home.
What is radon gas?
Radon is a harmful gas that can not be identified simply by smell or taste. The gas occurs naturally and is the result of a breakdown of uranium in the soil surrounding your home. Even small, unidentified cracks in your home can cause radon to leak in.
This is particularly problematic in multi-level homes. The Minnesota Department of Health says a “stack effect” causes air to rise up the house and exit at the top, causing new air to flow up from the soil to replace it. This is an issue because the air coming from the soil is what can contain radon.
Who is at risk?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) believes 1 in 15 American homes may be at risk (radon is found in all 50 states).
Interestingly our local counties in Minnesota are divided between 2 different “radon zones” in regard to the EPA risk classification. Stearns and Sherburne county are in “zone 1” which has the highest predicted radon amount. Benton County on the other hand is in “zone 2” with a bit less predicted radon amount.
On average lung cancer caused by radon gas claims 21,000 lives each year.
How do I know if radon is in my home?
The best way to identify if you have a radon issue is through a home test kit. These simple to use kits can often just involve leaving the kit open in your home for a set period of time so it can measure the radon levels in the air.
They are available for purchase at many local home improvement stores or online from Kansas State University who will mail you a kit.
January is as good of a month as any to get your home tested!
What if the test says I have high levels of radon in my home?
You will want to reach out to your local radon information department to find specialists to contact to repair the issue. This is often done by installing a radon “filtering” system in your home to help decrease the radon in the air in your home.
This is something you will need to have completed by a licensed professional as installers of radon mitigation machines are required to be licensed by the Minnesota Department of Health. For more information on finding a professional, visit the MDH website.