Radon in Homes an Invisible Danger
Many areas of the US have high background radon level in the ground. When radon gets into a home it can increase the resident’s cancer risk. How does radon get into a home? The most common way is through cracks in basement floors, walls, and sump pump sumps. In the winter, if a furnace or boiler is in the basement, the chimney can act as a depressurization device since combustion air is vented to the outdoors. If the basement is tight, and there is no source of combustion air, the heating system (and water heater too) can depressurize the basement. If there is radon in the soil gas below the house, this depressurization will increase radon infiltration through cracks and sumps. Another infiltration route is through groundwater. In areas with elevated radon in rock formations, and in homes using on-site wells for water, the water carries radon into the shower where it vaporizes to gaseous radon.
January is National Radon Action Month, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is touting three initiatives to raise awareness about the risks of radon. Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can exist at dangerous levels in homes, schools and other buildings. An estimated 20,000 people die every year in the U.S. from radon-related lung cancer.
This year EPA is highlighting three events: the winners of the National Radon Poster Contest, new global guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), and a new video outreach campaign.
Three middle school students are being honored for their award-winning posters illustrating radon’s risk. First-place winner of the National Radon Poster Contest is Alec Smith, an eighth grader at Guthrie Junior High School (Guthrie, Okla.); second-place winner is Emily Pinnock, an eighth grader at Olympus Junior High (Holladay, Utah); and third-place winner is Noah Jermain, an eighth grader at Savannah Middle School (Savannah, Mo.).
“The National Radon Poster Contest is a great way to teach students and parents about the dangers of radon,” said Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “Testing and fixing homes for radon helps save lives in communities across the country.”
Last September, EPA joined the World Health Organization’s first global call-to-action on cancer risk from radon. WHO’s Handbook on Indoor Radon represents collaboration by 30 countries seeking to understand and overcome the risks posed by radon while demonstrating the consensus that radon is a global public health risk. The WHO guidance is intended to help countries establish or expand radon programs.