Although most residents of Mount Vernon and elsewhere are familiar with environmental health risks such as second-hand smoke and even carbon monoxide there’s much less knowledge about another dangerous culprit that could be in the air: radon. It’s a naturally occurring gas, but too much exposure to it, especially to someone housebound or receiving palliative care, can cause serious health problems.
While the staff at Above and Beyond Home Health Care generally isn’t qualified to detect or measure how much radon may be present in different parts of your home, we are able to encourage you to take preventative measures and help connect you to more knowledgeable professionals and radon resources in the Eastern Iowa area.
We definitely take possible exposure seriously, whether it’s a short-term or a longer-term situation. We also try to educate our clients and their families about the potential harm to human health, especially those who don’t go too far from their homes, may not have great ventilation or have immune system challenges which could make them more susceptible to other diseases.
Research continues to take place into where radon can be found and ways to detect it and minimize exposure, but there are still some unknowns.
Time to learn
If you’re not familiar with radon, this is a great opportunity to learn more. January is officially National Radon Action Month, a month-long awareness campaign organized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Radon Safety Board, and other public and private organizations that focus on education. The goals are generally education, prevention, and steps to take if or when radon is detected.
According to the EPA, radon is a naturally occurring gas that is caused by the decay of uranium in many types of soils around the country. Radon can’t be tasted or smelled. Pockets of it can often be found in the ground, which is generally fine if it’s an undeveloped area since it simply evaporates in the air. But if homes, schools or similar structures where people visit regularly are placed over these areas, it can get trapped and start to build up to dangerous levels.
Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and is responsible for the deaths of about 21,000 people per year across the U.S. Smokers or those with existing lung problems are especially susceptible to problems from radon, but many non-smokers who have been exposed to radon may develop lung cancer.
The EPA and the U.S. Surgeon General encourage people to have their homes tested regularly for radon. This can be done with a simple test kit that can be purchased and ordered online or bought at a local hardware or home improvement store. These are often free or at least priced affordably.
For a more accurate reading or if radon is found during the test, these organizations encourage enlisting the services of a radon measurement and mitigation specialist, who is certified or licensed by a state environmental/health agency or have credentials from at least one of two national radon programs, the National Radon Proficiency Program or the Nation Radon Safety Board.
These individuals can assess your home and discuss options to remove detected radon and keep it from being a threat in the future. This could include home renovations such as adding or changing ventilation so radon may still emerge in the foundation but be eliminated before it reaches living areas.
Beyond regular testing, the EPA suggests that seniors concerned about possible radon exposure can consider taking steps such as:
- Installing radon detectors. These are similar to fire alarms or carbon monoxide detectors but tuned to sense the presence of radon. These don’t necessarily have to be placed throughout the entire home but in areas where radon could enter the home space such as basements or crawlspaces. If you can also ask your landlord if they can consider installing them for you or future tenants. Some builders may even include radon detection info when they construct a home.
- Seek area resources. Your local government, health care provider or public health office likely will have information about radon conditions in your particular area or local mitigation professionals who can help. They may also let you know if there are any community education events planned, either for January’s National Radon Action Month or any other time of the year. These could be opportunities to learn more, talk to experts and perhaps receive discounts on detection or mitigation services.
- Ask around. Even if you may not be familiar with radon, your friends, neighbors or even family members may be willing to share their own experiences and perspectives with radon detection and mitigation. They may be able to recommend names or companies they have experience with or tell you what to expect if a mitigation specialist comes to inspect.
The EPA continues to research ways to mitigate radon to help human health.