EPA: Radon May Be Most Potent Carcinogen in U.S. Homes

In recognition of January as National Radon Action Month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Surgeon General are urging Americans to test their homes for radon, a cancer-causing radioactive gas that claims tens of thousands of lives each year. The colorless, odorless gas is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking in the United States and in the world, the groups say. When radon is trapped in buildings and concentrations build up indoors, exposure becomes a concern. Breathing indoor air with radon can damage lung tissue and lead to cancer.

"Many people are not aware that breathing radon can cause lung cancer, but the science is strong," said EPA Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh. "Radon-related deaths can be prevented. Our hope is that people will understand the potential health risk and test their homes for radon and fix any problems they find."

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cancer killer of women in the United States taking the lives of more women each year than breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers combined. One in five women diagnosed with lung cancer has never smoked. Of the approximate 17,500 to 20,000 never-smokers diagnosed with lung cancer in the United States each year, more than 60 percent of them are women. The National Academy of Sciences and the EPA estimate that in the United States, radon in homes causes 21,100 lung cancer deaths each year and 2,900 of these deaths occur among people who never smoked.

EPA says radon may be the most potent carcinogen in U.S. homes. Although testing for radon is encouraged when selling or buying a home, recent consumer research indicates that up to 80 percent of American homes still need to be tested for radon, the agency says. The good news, it adds, is a simple home radon test, costing less than $25, can detect it.

Radon is naturally occurring and comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks entering homes through cracks in basements and foundations and floor drains. The heavy, radioactive gas can build to unhealthy levels, especially during colder months when windows and doors are kept closed.

For help in purchasing test kits and finding qualified professionals to fix a radon problem contact the radon program in your state on the Web at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html or visit the National Safety Council Web site at www.nsc.org/issues/radon. For more information about radon, visit EPA's Web site at www.epa.gov/radon. Radon Hotlines numbers are: 1-800-SOS-RADON (24 hour recording) or 1-800-55-RADON (to speak with a specialist), or 1-866-528-3187 (for Spanish speakers).

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