Cancer is hitting a little closer to home these days. The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Facts & Figures for 2010 says about 569,490 Americans are expected to die of cancer this year. That is more than 1,500 people a day. In the U.S., cancer accounts for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer accounts for more deaths than any other cancer in both men and women. Smoking, second hand smoke and radon are the leading causes of lung cancer. Radon, a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas, is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year. About 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who have never smoked.
Radon forms from the decay of naturally occurring uranium, which is found in soil and rock throughout the world. It typically enters the home through cracks in the foundation wall or floors, gaps in suspended floors, around pipes or construction joints, as well as through cavities inside the walls. It can also enter through the water supply, although the EPA says in most cases the radon entering the home through water is a small risk compared with radon entering your home from the soil.
The EPA’s booklet “A Citizen’s Guide to Radon,” says nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels. And radon has been detected in every state. The only way to know if your home has dangerous levels of radon is to test it. The amount of radon in the air is measured in “Pico curies per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.” There are low-cost “do-it-yourself” radon test kits available through the mail and in hardware stores and other retail outlets. However, you can also hire a qualified radon tester to do the testing for you.
If you find you have radon in your home, it is possible to reduce radon levels.
Some techniques prevent radon from entering your home while others reduce radon levels after it has entered. EPA generally recommends methods which prevent the entry of radon. Soil suction, for example, prevents radon from entering your home by drawing the radon from below the home and venting it through a pipe, or pipes, to the air above the home where it is quickly diluted.
An effective method to reduce radon levels in homes with crawlspaces involves covering the earth floor with a high-density plastic sheet. A vent pipe and fan are used to draw the radon from under the sheet and vent it to the outdoors.
Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most approaches to radon reduction. Sealing the cracks limits the flow of radon into your home, thereby making other radon reduction techniques more effective and cost-efficient.
U.S. Surgeon General Health Advisory Richard Carmona said it best in 2005 when he issued a National Health Advisory on Radon. “Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country,” he said. “It’s important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.”
While we are not yet able to cure cancer, we can do what we can to eliminate carcinogens in our homes.
Lou Cole is the president and owner of Emecole, Inc., a leading supplier in crawl space sealing and insulation materials for contractors throughout the United States and Canada. For more information about Emecole’s basement waterproofing and indoor air quality control line of products, visit http://www.emecole.com or write to 50 E. Montrose Dr. P.O. Box 7486, Romeoville, IL 60446.