A silent killer in your home

July 22, 2013 —

Does your state cause cancer? Iowa might. One hundred percent of Iowa’s 99 counties are ranked “Zone 1” or highest risk by the EPA, meaning that these counties have a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than four pCi/L (picocuries per liter). This is not good news for residents of the state.

Radon is a natural, radioactive gas that cannot be seen, smelled or tasted. What’s most frightening is the impact of radon exposure. Indoor radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. There are no immediate health symptoms to indicate radon exposure but, over time, the impact can be disastrous. It is estimated by the EPA that more than 20,000 Americans die of radon-related lung cancer each year. A person who smokes is at even greater risk.

The EPA created this map to help national, state and local organizations target their resources and implement radon-resistant building codes.

The EPA created this map to help national, state and local organizations target their resources and implement radon-resistant building codes.

Radon is created and released through the natural breakdown process of uranium inside the Earth. Uranium deposits in Iowa may cause one home to have incredibly high levels of radon while others on the same street have little to none. With no guarantee that any one home is more or less at risk and with no way to detect radon without the use of special tools, it is very important that each home be tested at regular intervals. The EPA recommends testing your home every two years and testing in various locations in your home. Radon is most commonly found in basements, but it can be found in varying degrees on every level of a home.

Test kits are available both online and in some home improvement stores. Each kit comes with clear instructions for where to place the kit, how long to leave it exposed to the air, and how to get your results. Every state has a primary contact for radon-related questions or concerns. In Iowa, the Radon Hotline (1-800-383-5992) can be used to find inexpensive radon test kits and answer questions. Or visit the department’s website for more information.

Should your home test high for radon, a licensed or credentialed radon mitigation contractor can help you or your landlord install a radon mitigation system that lowers radon levels.

Keep yourself and your family safe by testing your home. The EPA offers a great online resource with more information on how to get a radon test kit.

Have more questions or want to see a map of predicted average radon levels across the nation? Find out the EPA radon zones across the nation here.

Caitlin Suginaka aspires to live by the motto, "Think globally, act locally." She is forever looking for ways to bridge her love of international travel and her desire to improve the health and vitality of her community. Caitlin is a recent graduate of the Des Moines University master of public health program and works for the Iowa Department of Public Health as the Quality Assurance Program manager for the State Home Visitation Program. In rare moments of free time, Caitlin enjoys long runs and bike rides through the Iowa countryside with her husband, Alex, and coming up with creative ways to keep healthy food in her home and on her table.