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National Radon Action Month: The dangers of radon gas

  • December 20 2016

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    National Radon Action Month: The dangers of radon gas

    by Oyvind Birkenes, CEO, Airthings

    While many are aware that smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer, alarmingly many of us are unaware of the leading cause for non-smokers: Radon exposure.

    Radon is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas that causes an estimated 21,000 deaths a year in the United States alone in the form of lung cancer. When unaddressed, the deadly gas – which is present in all homes in all geographies to varying degrees – can build up to dangerous levels. This is especially relevant as the weather grows colder, causing us to seal up our homes and leaving less opportunity for radon gas to escape through ventilation.

    In anticipation of National Radon Action Month this January, read on to discover what radon is and what you can do to protect yourself.

    What is radon?

    Radon is a radioactive gas that occurs naturally as a decay product of radium. It enters buildings through cracks in floors or walls, construction joints, or gaps in foundations around pipes, wires or pumps.

    Widely misunderstood in the U.S., we rarely seem to draw attention to the need for radon testing in our homes and public spaces, aside from the short-term kit used when selling or purchasing a home in some areas of the country. While many of us think that smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are enough to ensure our families’ safety, radon-attributed deaths are five times higher than fatalities resulting from carbon monoxide poisoning and house fires combined.

    There is radon in all homes, but because the gas is invisible, there’s no way of detecting the concentration amount without testing. If the radon levels fall between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L, solutions as simple as increasing ventilation and air flow can help lower the concentration. However, if the level reaches above 4 pCi/L, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highly recommends corrective measures to reduce your exposure to radon gas. If the long-term average is above the EPA’s threshold of 4 pCi/L, a professional should be called to mitigate.

    What you can do: Take action for National Radon Action Month

    To raise radon awareness among both home and business owners, the EPA has declared January to be National Radon Action Month. While this brings a high amount of attention to the dangers of radon exposure in January, the EPA also is focused on bringing the issue to the forefront year-round. In 2015, the EPA and 11 partner organizations launched the National Radon Action Plan, aimed at reducing harmful radon levels in five million homes, apartments, schools and childcare centers nationwide, saving 3,200 lives annually by 2020. While government agencies and nonprofits are doing what they can to bring awareness to the issue of radon, there are numerous ways to protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers of radon.

    Long-term testing:

    While many think that the short-term measurement kits are sufficient for ensuring their families’ wellness and safety, a single radon test is insufficient and will not guarantee an accurate reading due to the fluctuating nature of the gas throughout the year. Because of this, continuous monitoring with long-term testing devices is essential.

    The first step to ensure your family is protected from radon exposure is placing a long-term testing device in your most frequently used rooms, such as a family room, basement, or bedroom. Be sure to continuously monitor your radon levels on a month-to-month basis, as radon levels fluctuate frequently. If the long-term average is above the EPA’s threshold of 4 pCi/L, a professional should be called to mitigate, but if levels fall between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L, solutions as simple as increasing ventilation and air flow can help.

    Reach out to friends, family, and your local legislators:

    In addition to testing your own home, reach out to school officials and local legislators to ensure proper radon testing is in place throughout public areas. Share the dangers of radon with friends and family, and stress the importance of long-term testing.

    Get involved:

    Lastly, get involved with organizations like Free to Breathe that are raising lung cancer awareness and highlighting other lesser known causes of lung cancer, including radon exposure.

    To support National Radon Action Month, take the necessary steps to test your home for radon, and spread the word to your friends and family to ensure they do the same. To learn more about the risks and prevention of radon exposure, visit Airthings.com/us.

    About the author:

    Oyvind Birkenes is the CEO of Airthings, a Norway-based tech company that develops and manufactures products to easily monitor and identify radon levels in indoor air. The company is led by a team of experienced scientists, engineers and technology professionals who share a common goal: to educate people about the prevalence of radon and develop accessible technology solutions to help them safeguard their homes and keep themselves and their families healthy.

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