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House Calls For Family Health

Tuesday, April 16th by Mary Smith


Your most important health assessment doesn't take place in a doctor's office

Everyone knows how important it is to have an annual medical checkup. By performing a few tests and a basic exam, your doctor can identify conditions associated with health risks. This early detection and treatment strategy is universally recognized as critical in maintaining good health.

Unfortunately, there's a critical health test than many doctors don't discuss with their patients: a test for radioactive radon gas. A radon test is done in your home, rather than at a health clinic or doctor's office. The home is where radon exposure occurs.

Radon is invisible, odorless and lethal

Radon is called a silent killer for good reason. A naturally occurring radioactive gas, radon emanates from rocks and soil, making its way into a building through cracks and gaps in the foundation. You can't see or smell radon gas. It mixes with interior air and enters the lungs of building inhabitants, where its cancer-causing effects are well documented. Radon's radioactivity triggers cellular changes in lung tissue that lead to lung cancer. Smokers who are exposed to radon have an increased risk of lung cancer, but any individual is vulnerable. Many victims of radon gas are nonsmokers. Statistics tell us that lung cancer is one of the worst types of cancer to contract. Following diagnosis, less than 15% of those afflicted will live beyond five years. Given these facts, it's not surprising that radon causes about 21,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.

Detection + mitigation = protection from radon's harmful effects

Yes, radon is a serious health threat facing millions of people. But diagnosing this cancer-causing condition is neither difficult nor costly. All you have to do is test your house for radon gas. Since radon can be present in any house, regardless of age, style or geographic location, the EPA recommends that every house be tested. Inexpensive, DIY test kits are available at hardware stores, home centers and even some municipal health departments. Alternatively, you can call in a radon mitigation contractor and have the contractor conduct the test.

Radon concentration (and thus radon exposure) is measured in picocuries per liter of air, or pCi/L. The EPA has set a radon level of 4 pCi/L as the "actionable" level of radon exposure, which means that a radon abatement system is recommended in any house where this radon concentration is detected. However, it's important to realize that there's no such thing as a "safe" exposure level to radon gas. The World Health Organization recommends radon abatement whenever a concentration of 3 pCi/L is found. To reduce a high radon concentration to a level below 4 pCi/L, the EPA recommends contacting a licensed radon mitigation contractor. The typical radon abatement system is simple but effective. Basically, a network of plastic pipe is installed in the basement or crawl space, with pipe ends penetrating the concrete slab or crawl space moisture barrier. A specially designed in-line fan sucks radon-rich air from soil beneath the house, drawing it through the plastic pipes and expelling it to the exterior. This strategy works effectively on all types of house foundations -basements, crawl spaces and slabs. Since the fan is the only moving part of the system, very little can go wrong. As long as the pipe run remains intact and the fan continues to run, radon gas will continue to be harmlessly exhausted to the interior before it can harm the health of family members.

Most radon mitigation systems can be installed in a single day. If your house hasn't been tested for radon, don't put off this critical diagnosis. This is one threat to human health you can eliminate without a doctor's appointment.

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