Wintertime often means staying indoors, shuttering windows and curling up with a good book until the weather warms up. This hibernation can also lead to exposure to the hazardous gas, radon.
Throughout January -- Radon Action Month -- the American Lung Association of Oregon and The Oregon Health Authority want to educate Oregonians on the risks of exposure and encourage residents to get their homes tested for radon.
Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless and invisible radioactive gas. It occurs naturally in the soil and accumulates in buildings where it can build up to dangerous levels.
The Radon Program operating with the Oregon Health Authority has been tracking data from previous radon tests to determine areas of high risk throughout the state. High risk cities include Scappose, Banks, North Plains, Boring, Dundee and La Grande. An extensive area of Portland, including the north and northeast neighborhoods are also at high risk.
To see what levels have been detected in your neighborhood, visit the Radon Program website at www.healthoregon.org/radon, which lists test data by city and Zip code.
In addition to radon often being a large contributor to background radiation, inhalation of radon contributes to lung cancer.
“We know from many studies that breathing high levels of radon increases your risk of lung cancer,” said Renée Klein, President of the American Lung Association of the Mountain Pacific.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon contributes to 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year in the United States; 2,900 of those deaths were people who have never smoked. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after cigarette smoking, and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
The EPA and the American Lung Association recommend all homes be tested for radon. The EPA suggests conducting a short-term test from 3-7 days which gives a snapshot of the background concentration. Levels are likely to be the highest during winter heating months when people keep their windows closed and they spend more time indoors.
Brett Sherry, the Radon Program coordinator with the Oregon Health Authority says the data shows a clear and critical need to test homes.
“The take-home message is that every home needs to be tested, regardless of where it is located,” Sherry said. "Radon has been detected in homes all across Oregon. The only way to know if your home has high radon levels is to test."
Radon test kits can be purchased at hardware and home improvement stores, or can be purchased online at www.radonkit.org. Many tests cost between $15 and $25 dollars.
Radon issues can be repaired at a cost similar to many common home repairs. Radon repairs include sealing cracks in floors and walls, which reroute airflow throughout the house.
The EPA suggests contracting with an EPA qualified or state-certified radon contractor to evaluate and rehabilitate radon exposed homes. To find a contractor near you, visit: www.epa.gov/radon/whereyoulive.html
The Radon Program is also offering free radon tests if your Zip Code has fewer than 20 radon test results. Cities that have very few test results include Cornelius, Tillamook, Scio and Brookings. To see if your Zip Code is on this list, visit www.healthoregon.org/radon.
If you qualify, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to receive instructions on how to get a free test kit, which will be provided while supplies last.
For Klein, the most important action of Radon Action Month is to get that test done so you can know what your risk is.
“Testing is an easy, important way to protect you and your family,” Klein said. “If you don’t test, you don’t know.”