Radon is a cancer-causing, radioactive gas. It comes from the natural (radioactive) breakdown of uranium and radium in soil, rock, and water and is released into the air we breathe. Radon is found all over the U.S.—in buildings, homes, offices, and schools—and can reach drastically high levels, causing a major health concern. It is estimated to cause 21,000 lung cancer deaths in this country each year, according to the EPA.
Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium found in nearly all soils. Typically, radon moves up through the ground to the air above and into homes through cracks and other holes in the foundation. Your home traps radon, where it can build up once inside. Homes of any age and construction can have radon.
Testing for radon is inexpensive, easy, and the only way to know if you and your family are at risk of exposure. The EPA and the Surgeon General advise testing all homes below the third floor for radon. The EPA also advises that schools be tested.
A radon problem can be fixed. There are simple ways to fix a radon problem that are not too costly. Even very high levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels.
Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that become trapped in your lungs when you breathe. This may lead to lung tissue damage and, over time, to lung cancer, over the course of a lifetime. Not all people exposed to high (elevated) radon levels will develop lung cancer, and the amount of time between exposure and onset of disease may be years. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer (after smoking).
Smoking combined with radon exposure poses an especially serious health risk. The chance of getting lung cancer from radon depends on:
How much radon is in your home
The amount of time you spend in your home
Whether you are a smoker or have ever smoked
Contact your state radon office or visit the EPA's website.