THE BLOG
01/28/2016 11:57 am ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Radon: Unmasking the Invisible Killer

Radon gas is invisible and odorless. But it reveals itself in a deadly footprint it can leave behind -- lung cancer. In fact, exposure to radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer, and one in 15 homes in America is at risk from elevated levels of radon. January is National Radon Action Month and the perfect time to take action to protect you and your loved ones from this invisible killer.

Understanding Radon
Radon is a naturally occurring invisible, odorless and tasteless gas. It occurs when uranium in the soil and rock underground breaks down to form radon. As radon decays, it releases radioactive byproducts that are inhaled and can cause lung cancer. Radon enters a home through cracks in the walls, basement floors, foundations and other openings, and can build up to dangerous concentrations.

Radon causes approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Fortunately, these deaths are preventable. The good news is that accurate and inexpensive tests exist to measure radon levels in your home, and if levels are too high, economical radon mitigation systems can be easily put in place to reduce it to a safe level.

A National Plan to Save Lives
As part of Radon Action Month, the American Lung Association calls on Americans to test their homes for this naturally occurring gas. But individual, voluntary testing is just the first step. Our nation as a whole must set into motion strategies to eliminate these avoidable lung cancer deaths. That's why the Lung Association has partnered with leaders from the private sector and the federal government to drive this change and end these preventable deaths.

The Lung Association led a national workgroup to create a National Radon Action Plan that identifies proven, effective strategies to reduce exposure to radon gas. Implementing these strategies would prevent an estimated 3,200 lung cancer deaths by 2020. The Plan seeks to reduce exposure in 5 million high-radon homes, apartments, schools and childcare centers.

Two top priorities in the plan approach radon mitigation from the finance/insurance side and through the state building codes. The first strategy is to make radon testing and systems to reduce radon a standard practice in housing finance and insurance programs. In other words, before a home can be financed or insured it must be tested and, if needed, radon mitigation measures put in place. The second strategy would incorporate radon risk reduction systems in state building codes. The Lung Association and partners are already working to put these priorities in place by meeting with groups, including housing finance and building code developers.

This plan builds on the work of the Federal Radon Action Plan adopted in 2011. Under that plan, federal agencies made several key steps using available authority and resources to advance the battle against radon. Key federal partners leading the way in the National Radon Action Plan are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the past few years, this plan has transitioned from a strictly federal plan to a broader, national plan involving multiple agencies and non-governmental organizations. These groups identified key strategies that could effectively build in radon protection across the nation. But you don't have to wait to get that protection for your family.

Protecting Your Home
January is a great month to test your home for radon. Do-it-yourself test kits are simple and inexpensive. Testing can also be done by a certified radon-testing professional. Test kits are available at many local hardware stores or online. (In New Jersey, test kits may only be purchased online through New Jersey Resident Test Kits.) Questions about radon gas testing may be directed to the Lung Association's free Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA).

Radon exposure is a serious health threat, but we can work together to reduce the risk. As we continue to roll out our national strategies, you can do your part by testing your home, and if the radon level is unsafe, take action to reduce it. Together, we can unmask the invisible killer and eliminate lung cancer caused by radon. You can learn more at Lung.org/radon.