Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in never smokers, killing more than 21,000 people in the U.S. every year. Iowa leads the nation in indoor radon concentration with 6 TIMES the national average due to the high levels of uranium and radium in our glacial till soils. There are approximately 400 deaths per year in Iowa from radon-induced lung cancer—about the same number as in car accidents. And if you smoke, the risk is 5 to 20 times that of a non-smoker. Fortunately, radon-induced lung cancer is preventable because radon is detectable and can be reduced; but you have to test for radon to know your level of exposure. Currently, the EPA recommends radon concentrations to be less than 4 pCi/L in the air; however, that amount still carries quite significant risk and will likely be lowered in the future. Testing for radon regularly saves lives by ensuring the environment in which you live and work maintains appropriate radon levels.
Radon is the radioactive decay product of radium in the soil. It varies from state to state due to the composition of native soils, but because of the radioactive make-up in our glacial till soils, Iowans must be especially vigilant when it comes to radon testing. Radon gas infiltrates homes and buildings through seams in the foundation or slab where it is trapped inside and inhaled. If radon atoms are in the lungs when it decays further (breaks down into new elements), it releases a burst of radiation directly into the lungs, damaging cells and destroying our DNA, which can lead to the development of lung cancer. The short-lived radon decay products (various radioactive isotopes of Polonium, Lead, and Bismuth) decay further releasing additional bursts of radiation into our bodies and our homes. Radon can also be dissolved in well water and damage our cells when ingested.
Radon can infiltrate any kind of building—new homes, old homes, schools, and workplaces. We our primarily exposed to radon in our homes, but that is closely followed by workplaces for adults and schools for children. Radon testing and mitigation (lowering the concentration to less harmful levels) is affordable and every home, workplace, and school needs to be tested. If you are considering buying a home, have the house tested so that you can address the issue of high radon early.
Protect your family from radon-induced lung cancer by testing for radon early and often. We at Midwest Indoor Air Quality are fully certified by the Iowa Department of Public Health to test for radon in homes of all types as well as large buildings such as offices and schools. We are now in the school radon testing season for Des Moines, West Des Moines, Ankeny, and the surrounding metro. We will continue testing radon in schools in Central Iowa through the spring. If you have questions about radon in your children’s schools or your workplace, contact the school administration, building management or your place of employment, or give us a call at (515) 783-4669.