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January is National Radon Awareness Month. | Download this photo.

January is National Radon Awareness Month

The second leading cause of lung cancer might be lurking in your home

Jan. 23, 2018


MANHATTAN, Kan. — Lung cancer is usually associated with smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products, but the second leading cause of the disease is something that you will never see.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, radon is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers, and the second leading cause of lung cancer overall.

“Radon is an odorless, tasteless, colorless, naturally-occurring radioactive gas that comes from the soil underneath our homes,” said Bruce Snead, an energy specialist with K-State Research and Extension. “Outdoors it's not a concern — but indoors it can build up, increasing our exposure to radiation, which increases our potential for developing lung cancer.”

Testing for radon is easy. Test kits can be purchased through many local K-State Research and Extension offices, and other local and state agencies, for a nominal charge.  For the most accurate results, Snead said the test must be conducted in the right location within the home.

Testing For Radon
When installing a radon test kit in your home, it's important to read and follow directions carefully. The instructions will also help you identify the best location to place your test. | Download this photo. 

“The best place to test is on the lowest, lived-in level,” he said. “If you have a basement with a family room, bedroom, living room -- any space like that, that's where you should test. If your basement is totally storage, then you probably want to test on the first floor, in a bedroom, living room, or family room.”

The tests typically include a prepaid mailing envelope for returning the test to a lab for processing. The lab will send results by mail, as well as posting the results online, according to the serial number on your test kit.

If the initial test results in a reading of 4 or higher, a longer follow-up test is recommended. If the follow-up test confirms the presence of elevated radon levels, special equipment can be installed to lower radon levels within your home.

Snead said the typical radon mitigation system involves a permanently-installed venting pipe and fan. “It works by drawing, or sucking the radon from beneath the home with a small, continuously running fan, and venting it into the air above your home, where it dissipates into the atmosphere,” he said.

Radon Mitigation SystemA home with elevated radon levels can be easily fixed. A pipe is placed under the foundation of the home (left); a fan unit then draws the radon up and into the air (right). | Download this photo.

“The standard or typical range for a radon reduction system is about $1,500, nationally. It's much like many other common home repairs, in terms of cost. The contractor will install it according to standards, and guarantee to get the radon level down below 4 -- that's a key point."

Finding a qualified contractor to install a radon mitigation system will require some research, but Snead said there are tools to help.

“Contact your state radon program to see if they have a list of certified or require certified individuals or you can contact one of two national radon proficiency programs where contractors voluntarily meet guidelines and standards,” Snead said. “Those are the National Radon Proficiency Program and the National Radon Safety Board and both have websites where you can search for contractors in your state or area.”

Any home can be fixed, he said, and the discovery of an elevated radon level is neither a reason to sell a home and move, or to resist buying a new home that you’ve had your eye on (see sidebar).

The typical systems that reduce radon can be installed in a day, are often effective within 24 hours, and you can live in it in comfort and safety.

Snead added that while $1,500 may sound high, when compared to the potential costs of fighting lung cancer, it's a bargain.

"You would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars dealing with lung cancer, so to try and prevent that for a cost of $1,500 is probably a pretty good deal," Snead said.

“Every home has radon and if it's high, every home can be fixed. It's really important that you test your home, fix if necessary, and save a life.”

Radon and real estate

Testing for radon is relatively easy, and the cost of radon mitigation is about $1,500. If you’re thinking about buying or selling a home, who’s responsible for testing, and fixing if it’s necessary?

If you’re planning to sell your home, the Environmental Protection Agency has a free publication, “Home Buyer’s and Seller’s Guide to Radon” that can be downloaded from their site.

In short, the burden of responsibility generally falls to the seller of the home. If you are selling a home, have the home tested before putting it on the market. Include test results with all the other documentation about the home, as well as information about the home’s radon-reduction system, if applicable.

If you are buying a home, ask if the home has been tested for radon, and ask for the test results, as well as information about a radon-reduction system that may have been installed.

“If you're in a real estate transaction you're going to want to use a certified radon professional, either state certified or nationally certified, to conduct that test,” said K-State Research and Extension energy specialist Bruce Snead. “Many home inspectors have this qualification — that way you have an independent analysis of the radon level that can be used in the real estate transaction, as a basis for negotiation. We recommend all homes be tested in a real estate transaction because you can't predict the rate on a level based on anything about the house.”

Snead stressed that any home with elevated radon levels can be fixed, including the home you’ve always wanted.


Written by

Randall Kowalik

At a glance

Radon is an odorless, tasteless, colorless gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Homes should be tested for elevated radon levels. All homes with elevated radon levels can be fixed.

Notable quote

“Every home has radon and if it's high, every home can be fixed. It's really important that you test your home, fix if necessary, and save a life.”

— Bruce Snead, K-State Research and Extension energy specialist


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K‑State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the wellbeing of Kansans.
Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county extension offices, experiment fields, area extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K‑State campus in Manhattan.