THE BLOG
01/15/2015 11:07 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2015

It's Time to Get Serious About Harmful Radon Exposure

Radon, a naturally-occurring invisible gas, is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Twenty-one thousand Americans die from radon-induced lung cancer each year. You can't see, smell or taste radon, but it may be a problem in your home. The good news is that radon exposure is preventable. The American Lung Association and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are committed to fighting radon. Now, we're enlisting others to help take the fight to a whole new level -- because no one should have to suffer from preventable radon-caused cancer.

For decades, the Lung Association and EPA have worked with nonprofits, industry and other government agencies to educate the public about radon, and encourage people to reduce radon risk. Yet, elevated radon is still a serious challenge in an estimated 1 in 15 homes across the United States. And, in December 2014, testing detected record-breaking radon levels in homes in Lehigh and Center Valley, Pennsylvania, the state where radon first came to national attention more than 25 years ago.

Public education is needed, but it isn't enough. It's time to improve our game plan by using proven low-cost technology to test homes, schools and other buildings -- so we can reduce health risk when high radon is found, and construct buildings to keep radon out in the first place.

The first step in our new game plan came in 2011 when EPA and eight partner federal agencies launched the Federal Radon Action Plan. Under the plan, we've helped reduce high radon in more than 6,500 homes, schools and daycares, and reached nearly 2 million property owners with helpful incentives and guidance.

To build on this progress, in 2013, the Lung Association brought together leaders from 11 organizations, including nonprofit and industry groups and federal agencies. The group analyzed the effectiveness of past approaches for reducing radon risk, and considered additional options. The most effective strategies make it standard practice to address radon when buildings are constructed, financed, re-financed, insured, retrofitted or sold. In other words, just as lead and termite inspections are standard practice when buying or selling a home, radon inspections should also be a routine step in the transaction.

These organizations will release a national radon strategy this spring to set the U.S. on a path to solving the radon problem once and for all. Making radon testing a standard practice will save thousands of lives every year, prevent unnecessary and burdensome health care costs, and make the American housing stock safer for future generations.

Our near-term goal is to reduce unsafe levels of radon in 5 million homes by 2020, preventing 3,200 lung cancer deaths every year. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate avoidable radon-induced lung cancer in the United States. We know we can do it. A new and improved strategy, with commitments from industry, government and homeowners to test for and deal with radon in homes they buy, sell and build can have a huge impact on improving public health and cutting health care costs.

EPA and the Lung Association encourage all Americans to test their homes for radon. Affordable do-it-yourself radon test kits are available online, at many home improvement and hardware stores, or you can hire a qualified radon professional. More information on how to obtain a test kit, contact your state radon office, and find a qualified radon professional is available at http://www.epa.gov/radon or by calling 1-800-SOS-RADON.

Radon is a pervasive problem, but by working together, we can tackle it. Let's make 2015 a healthier, safer new year.