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Remember to test for radon in your home

This is the first of two parts. The second part will appear in the Homes& More section on Jan. 11.

The surgeon general and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend testing for radon and reducing radon in homes that have high levels.

You should fix your home if your radon level is confirmed to be 4 picocuries per liter or higher. Radon levels less than 4 picocuries per liter still pose a risk, and in many cases should be reduced.

Radon is estimated to cause thousands of lung cancer deaths each year. The surgeon general has warned that radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths.

If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. Air pressure inside your home is usually lower than pressure in the soil around your home's foundation. Because of this difference in pressure, your house acts like a vacuum, drawing radon in through foundation cracks and other openings.

Radon may also be present in well water and can be released into the air in your home when water is used for showering and other household uses.

In most cases, radon entering the home through water is a small risk compared with radon entering your home from the soil. In a small number of homes, the building materials (such as granite and certain concrete products) can give off radon, although building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.

In the United States, radon gas in soils is the principal source of elevated radon levels in homes.

Since you can't see or smell radon, special equipment is needed to detect it. You can order test kits and obtain information from a radon hotline. There are two types of radon testing devices — passive and active.

Passive radon testing devices do not need power to function. These include charcoal canisters, alpha-track detectors, charcoal liquid scintillation devices, and electret ion chamber detectors. Both short- and long-term passive devices are generally inexpensive.

Active radon testing devices require power to function and usually provide hourly readings and an average result for the test period. These include continuous radon monitors and continuous working level monitors that may cost more.

Any radon exposure has some risk of causing lung cancer. The lower the radon level in your home, the lower your family's risk of lung cancer.

A short-term test remains in your home for a duration of two days to 90 days, whereas a long-term test remains in your home for more than 90 days.

All radon tests should be taken for a minimum of 48 hours. A short-term test will yield faster results, but a long-term test will give a better understanding of your home's year-round average radon level.

For more information, visit www.epa.gov/radon.


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