Deadly Danger That You Can’t See or Smell: How Non-Smokers Could Get Lung Cancer

It’s widely known that one of the primary causes of lung cancer is smoking. However, did you know that non-smokers are also at risk of developing lung cancer even if they’ve never been around cigarette smoke?

Another primary cause of lung cancer is exposure to radon gas, which can be present inside your own home without you even knowing it.

What is Radon?

Radon is a gas that forms naturally from decaying elements and is found in soil or rock. It is also present in low levels in rivers and lakes and in drinking water from wells.

However, when radon gas breaks down it can attach to other particles, such as dust. While the attached gas is outside, it disperses quickly and becomes relatively harmless. However, when it is inside the home it can build up and become concentrated.

When broken down radon that has attached to other particles is breathed in, it can become trapped in the lungs and cause damage to the body’s cells.

Why is Radon Harmful?

The American Cancer Society recognizes radon gas as a harmful carcinogen that can cause lung cancer. The National Research Council estimates that around 20,000 Americans die each year from lung cancer caused by radon exposure. A significant number of those people are non-smokers.

The same research also estimates around 20 stomach cancer-related deaths each year are caused by radon exposure.

How Does Radon Enter the Home?

Radon gas released by rock or soil is able to enter our home through the basement or crawl space or through cracks in flooring or foundations. Some building materials may also contribute to radon exposure, such as concrete or pumice. It can also be found in low levels within some granite countertops, particularly those with a red hue.

Homes with wells drawing water from underground water sources are also at greater risk of radon gas exposure.

If you’re unsure whether your home could be at risk of radon gas exposure, you can have a radon test done by specialists like

Symptoms of Radon Exposure

One of the biggest challenges of detecting radon exposure is the lack of symptoms. It’s possible to spend years exposed to dangerous levels of radon gas without developing any noticeable signs.

However, once cells within the lungs have begun to mutate and symptoms begin to show, it’s possible that cancer cells may already have begun to develop.

Symptoms of radon exposure and poisoning include respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, or persistent coughing. Other symptoms include frequent infections, such as bronchitis or pneumonia.

Reducing Your Exposure Radon Gas

One of the best ways to reduce the risk of exposing you or your family to radon gas is to have your home tested by a certified professional. The actual levels of radon within your home can fluctuate, depending on a range of factors, so the home testing kits available from your local hardware store may not always give accurate readings.

Once you know whether your home is at risk, you’re in a stronger position to take protective measures.

Seal any cracks or openings in floors, walls, or around plumbing entry points with caulk to stop the gas entering through any crevices. In basements, install fans and increase ventilation to help stop the gas from building up to concentrated levels.

If you’re concerned about radon build up in ground water, it’s also possible to purchase water filters that use granular activated carbon to eliminate radon.  

Even after you’ve taken precautionary measures to reduce your exposure to radon, you may still want to monitor the levels of the gas within your home with a home monitor. If radon concentration levels begin to rise again to dangerous levels, the monitor will sound an alarm to warn you.

Corey DePenning is the owner and operator of Central Iowa Radon, a radon testing and mitigation business located in Des Moines, IA. He is an Iowa native who graduated from Iowa State University. With more than 20 years of experience in the construction industry, Corey has done everything from home inspections to energy audits. He formed Central Iowa Radon in 2013 to provide valuable services including radon testing and mitigation system installation to both residential and commercial properties in Des Moines and the surrounding central Iowa region. Corey is an Iowa Department of Public Health Certified Radon Measurement Specialist. His is also a member of the Des Moines Association of Home Builders, the Des Moines Area Association of Realtors, and the American Society of Home Inspectors.