The cause and effect of high radon levels

Radon is a radioactive gas that rises from the ground and gets trapped inside homes. Similar to carbon monoxide, it can’t be detected by our senses. Unfortunately, exposure over a long period to high levels of radon can cause lung cancer. In fact, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers and causes 21,000 deaths per year in the United States.

Radon exists outdoors, too, but it dissipates into the air, so outdoor exposure doesn’t cause a major threat to our health. So, what level of radon inside is safe? We’re here to help you understand so you can protect yourself and your loved ones.

Is any radon exposure safe?

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L), and you can find your home’s radon level by performing a simple test. Technically, no level of exposure is safe, but your health risk greatly varies depending on how much you’re exposed to. The average outdoor radon level is 0.4 pCi/L, but once levels rise to 2.0 pCi/L inside, it’s time to consider taking action. 

If your home has a high radon level, a radon mitigation system can be installed to reduce the concentration in your home. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends considering mitigation at 2.0 pCi/L, and the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests taking action at 2.7 pCi/L. Regardless, you should consult a radon professional near you—they can help you figure out when it is an appropriate time to install a system in your home based on your specific factors.

What contributes to high radon levels

The amount of radon in your home is correlated to how much uranium is in the soil below your home. Uranium is present across the state of Utah, and conservatively, one in three Utah homes has a high radon level. 

Additionally, the time of year you test and your home can contribute to the amount of radon in your home. Radon levels are higher in winter, so you should alternate your testing between winter and summer. Further, homes are often built more “airtight” nowadays, which means less radon can escape, and the concentration goes up. Finally, if you do any construction on your home or your home experiences a natural disaster, the structural changes can cause more radon to enter your home.

Test your home for radon today

Click here to request a free radon test If your home tests high, contact a certified radon mitigation company for a quote. 

Radon exposure in Utah can increase the risk of stroke

We often talk about how radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers and causes 21,000 American deaths per year, but did you know it might increase the risk of stroke, too?

New data about radon and strokes

A recent report in Neurology suggests that radon exposure can increase stroke risk by as much as 14%. Dr. Eric Whitsel, a professor of epidemiology and medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, tracked 149,000 women over 13 years and reported nearly 7,000 strokes. After dividing the group into three groups based on their home’s radon levels, those in the high radon group had a 14% increased risk of stroke compared to the low radon group. Additionally, those in the middle group had a 6% increased risk. Though more studies are needed to confirm these findings, there is reason to believe radon exposure contributed to the increased stroke risk.

What Utahns can do to reduce stroke risk

Conservatively, 1 in 3 homes in Utah has high radon levels. To keep yourself and your loved ones safe from radon-induced lung cancer and an increased risk of stroke, test your home for radon every two years. If your home tests high, consider having a radon mitigation system installed. 

You can request a free radon test here. 

Victims of radon gas explain the importance of awareness

By Leslie Thatcher – KPCW Senior News Director

Podcast published March 19, 2024

victoms of radon gas

Transcription

Leslie: Well, a group of non-smoking lung cancer survivors working to raise awareness and increase radon testing in Utah in the studio to tell us more and what to look for are two of those survivors. We've got Summit County residents Bill Johnson and Connie Alexakos. Good morning to both of you. Good morning. Good morning. Connie, maybe you can start and tell us a little bit about your story. How you got to this point in your life as a radon testing advocate?

Connie: Well, last August, I had just returned from a trip in Greece, came back and had a cough. Didn't know what it was. Had been fighting a cough for a long time and finally my GP sent me to get a CT scan and lo and behold, I have cancer and I've never been a smoker. I have lived a very healthy life. I'm 77 years old and I lived a really long healthy life and was healthy except for cancer and we sat down at Huntsman who has been great and Dr. Puri, my doctor at that time said, I said, well, how could I have gotten this? And she said, well, radon poisoning is the number one cause of non-smoking cancer. And I said, what is that? And I've lived in Summit County or Salt Lake County for 20 years and I had never heard of it. Just bought a house four years ago, bought a house and didn't know about it. So I got online, ordered a test and got to Utah Radon. My test was very high and my son in Wasatch County was even higher. The numbers were incredibly high. So we immediately called Utah Radon and they came up and mitigated. Now, if I'd known this years ago, I might not have cancer. I don't know, but I do know that testing is critical and our radon, the rate of radon here, one in three homes could have high radon. So it is, it is critical to test and it's free. You can get free test kits. So it's, it's a step that you can take that doesn't require anything except a test.

Leslie: All right. Bill, let's have you talk a little bit about, about your story and how you got here.

Bill: Yeah, so in June of 2023, I was diagnosed with stage four non-small, non-small cell lung cancer that obviously blindsided me because I was an avid trail runner, mountain biker, skier, typical park guy, right? Managing two, two young boys, active young boys. So it blindsided me and my family and, and I was just looking for some reason why. And so I, I can't say that radon caused my cancer, but I can say that, you know, again, as Connie said, you know, it's the leading cause of non-smoking lung cancer and I wasn't a smoker. So really just trying to be proactive and reach out to the community and, and have them test. It's an easy thing to do. It's free. And test often.

Leslie: Yeah. So have you tested your home and did you also have high numbers?

Bill: I did. Yeah. And I actually monitored, I bought a monitor for my home. And so in, in the lower level of my home, yeah, I tested high. And so I had to have that mitigated obviously. And I still continue to monitor that, monitor the levels in the house. But yeah, it did test high.

Leslie: Yeah. Everybody else in the family though okay? I mean, were they tested for something or?

Bill: Everyone's good. Yeah. I mean, so far so good. I'm, we're definitely lucky that my wife is okay.  And, and my two boys are healthy.

Leslie: Yeah. Had you ever tested your home for radon before?

Bill: Yeah. So we moved into our current house 14 years ago and we got a, you know, the, the passive cold test and, and tested it and kind of just, you know, it was fine at the time. And so we just never thought about it again for the 14 years. Right. And so I think what's important about radon is, you know, you have to take into the, take the variables into account. So, you know, different seasonal changes, whether there's snow on the ground, you know, maybe the neighbor's remodeling and, and they've disturbed the ground a little bit. And so that can all affect the radon levels in your home.

Leslie: Oh, that's interesting. So Connie had a cough. What kind of symptoms did you have?

Bill: Yeah. I mean, I was, I was running and, and, and how this happened to me is that I was shoveling the driveway and I thought I pulled my back out because of last winter's epic snow totals, right? It was shoveling again. And so I didn't have, you know, the typical symptoms, you know, persistent cough or shortness of breath or anything like that. And so I, what happened to me is it was all in my back. And so, so I thought I'd pull my back out. I did physical therapy for months. And finally in June, we, my wife was, you know, my wife and my physical therapist said, you got to go in and get an MRI. You got to check out what's going on. And that's when they found the mass in my right lung and it metastasized all the way up through my spine to my brain and then down into my hips, which pretty much made me immobile for a couple of months. So yeah, shell shocked.

Leslie: So you're doing better now. I mean, your prognosis is good and you're looking pretty good.

Bill: Thanks. Yeah, no, I think both Connie and I, we were, we linked up before obviously, and we're on, we take the same immunotherapy medication called Tagrisso. And that's done wonders for me. It's actually continuing to reduce brain and bone mets, but I do have some progression in my lung again. And so I'm on a new medication as well. Yeah.

Leslie: So would somebody know if radon is to blame? I mean, is there any way to test the level in your body?

Connie: I don't think there is a way that they can say you have cancer because of radon, but it is something you can test and prevent it if you're testing regularly. And they can't, and they can't say radon caused your cancer. They can't say anything did. Bill and I both lived really healthy lifestyles. I've never been really sick ever and have never smoked. Lived a pretty healthy life for 77 years.

Leslie: So talk a little bit about, well, your prognosis, you're doing okay as well. Right?

Connie: Well, I call it the magic pill, which evidently so does Bill and his family. And Tagrisso really stopped my cough. I had to have, it had metastasized to bone for me and other parts. And so I had a rod put in my femur, and it's attached with two big screws at my knee and my hip. But I exercise at least five days a week and still ski this silly mountain up here. So you just have to fight through those things. I feel good and I will probably never get rid of cancer, but I deal with it. It doesn't, it hasn't changed my lifestyle now that I'm on this great drug. And as I say, Huntsman has been absolutely fabulous. So.

Leslie: All right. Well, both of you, I guess, are on like a doing road, a road tour to what? I mean, KPCW is a stop. You doing other of these, just trying to get the word out?

Bill: Yeah. I mean, I'm just trying to get the word out at any level, right? So I think that it's really, you know, if you can build it into like your house maintenance schedule, right? So changing the water softener and anything like that, just order a test and get it done quarterly. So really just trying to raise awareness. So, yeah, as many platforms as possible. I want people to get out there and test and be proactive.

Leslie: Yeah. So, I mean, is that testing that often recommended? Winter, summer, spring, fall?

Bill: Yeah. I mean, I think so I actually use a monitor in my house so you can buy monitors as well as the free test kits from UtahRadon.org. But the monitor, I can actually check the levels. You know, it tests continuously throughout the day. And so you can actually see that it'll boost up in the middle of the night sometimes. And so, yeah, I think when I initially put the monitor in, it was summertime and everything was safe. And then the minute the windows closed in the fall and it got a little chilly and the heater kicked on, all of a sudden the levels went high. So that's really it. You have to test seasonally and test often.

Leslie: Yeah. How expensive are those monitors?

Bill: Well, yeah, I mean, they're so I use the EcoSense models and they're about $150 to $200. So and then they give you real data. So there's an app and a test like every 10 minutes or so.

Leslie: And you've both had your property mitigated. So has that kept the levels low and that what just provides some fanning, venting?

Connie: It is a vent that comes out of the house, blows it out into the air. My son, as I said, lives in Heber and he was very high and he had and we had mitigated as well there. So and he tests. We both test frequently. Yeah. Yeah. And I live in an over 55 community. They built two new houses in my neighborhood a year ago and it went sky high. I was shocked. Yeah. And none of my neighbors knew anything about radon either. So all 20 of us have now checked and know some are high, some are low and in a very small community. So you can't say that because your neighbor was low, you're going to be low. You have to check.

Leslie: Yeah. And so the fact that that when levels went high again, that's when the fans then kick on.

Connie: Absolutely. Yeah.

Leslie: In your basement or crawl space.

Connie: Yeah. Well, the fan, I think, blows pretty much all the time. Yeah. It just drags it out of the earth and takes it up.

Leslie: OK, so why would the levels come up again then?

Connie: Because they've been digging. They dug two basements really close to my house. I guess. I don't know. All I know is that I'm going to test and I'm going to preach it to everybody. Test and test frequently. And Bill gave the… you can also get on Utah Radon Services . Is that what it is? Utahradon.org.

Leslie: OK, and you mentioned that it is a free. Actually, I did that. Right.

Connie: So did you test?

Leslie: Yeah.

Connie: And how are you?

Leslie: I was a little bit above. So I'm going to retest because that's what they recommend.

Connie: Right.

Leslie: And then but we've also heard it's important that you do it.

Bill: Oh, yeah.

Leslie: Continuously.

Bill: Yeah. And I think I've even heard stories, locals in town, actually just by word of mouth, that even if they've had mitigation done and they went back and tested and it was high again, so and that could be because of, you know, the continuous construction, maybe next door. And so, yeah, even if you have a current mitigation in your house, I think, you know, it's advantageous to go ahead and test.

Leslie: OK, it does sound like I mean, I saw some data that almost three quarters of Park City homes tested for radon do have high levels. That's kind of scary.

Connie: Some of them, Wasatch, Wasatch County, both very high levels.

Bill: Yeah, I think geologically just Utah in general is prone to it. Right. So that's kind of why we're we're trying to really advocate at UtahRadon.org to get out and test.

Connie: OK. And I don't think that it is. You don't have to test legally when you sell a house here. I don't believe that is required, but it should be required by everyone.

Leslie: Right. Something you can negotiate. Right. In terms of whether who mitigates.

Connie: Exactly. Yeah.

Leslie: OK. Anything else you'd like to tell listeners?

Connie: Thank you for letting us come and speak and and just just tell everybody that is necessary.

Leslie: All right. Well, stay healthy. Bill. Thank you. Thanks for your time.

Connie: Thank you so much.

Your home could be putting you at risk of lung cancer, according to a leading cancer expert

Dr. Wallace Akerley, medical oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, encourages all Utah residents to test their homes for radon.

Utah has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country, yet oncologists like Dr. Wallace Akerley with the Huntsman Cancer Institute have their calendars full of lung cancer patients. How can this be? The answer is simple: Radon is increasing the risk of lung cancer.

The leading cause of cancer in non-smokers

Lung cancer used to be known purely as a smoker’s disease, but the science behind the number one cause of cancer death in America has made strides. According to Dr. Akerley, lung cancer can now be broken down into nine diseases that can be further broken down into 18 pathways. In just a few years, that could increase to 30–50.

“All of the molecular [lung cancer] breakthroughs occur in patients who don’t smoke,” shares Dr. Akerley. “My interest has been dominated by never-smokers lung cancer, [and] radon is the number two cause of lung cancer.”

Radon is a radioactive gas, and anything radioactive can damage your DNA. This gas is created when uranium in the ground decays, and Utah’s naturally high uranium levels mean we have high radon levels, too. It’s estimated that one in three Utah homes has a high radon level—and most do not know it. Even more, radon levels can fluctuate due to weather, natural disasters, and structural changes in a home, and many people do not know you need to test regularly to avoid radon-induced lung disease.

“Most of the things we deal with in medicine, we’re always talking about a small chance of making a difference. If you’ve got a one in three chance of having a problem in your house today, it's something that you should do something about.” - Dr. Wallace Akerley, medical oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute

Radon flies under the radar

Lung cancer often goes undetected until it has progressed, especially in those who don’t smoke and think they are safe from environmentally-induced lung cancer. Kamas resident Connie Alexakos was a healthy 75-year-old woman when she was diagnosed with stage four non-smoking lung cancer that metastasized to her liver and bones. “I thought it was allergies,” said Alexakos when discussing her main symptom before diagnosis—a cough that gradually worsened. “[I] finally got to a CT scan and my [doctor] called me immediately and said, ‘You've got to go up to Huntsman. This is more serious. This is not allergies.” 

When Alexakos met with her doctor at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, she asked how she could get risk of lung cancer as a healthy woman who has never smoked. Her doctor explained that radon is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and encouraged her to test her home for radon. Alexakos was shocked by the response, “You're kidding. What? How could I have never heard [about] this?” She immediately ordered a free radon test and discovered the radon level in her home was 13.0 pCi/L, an equivalent cancer risk to smoking 26 cigarettes a day. 

Connie Alexakos was diagnosed with non-smoking lung cancer in 2023. Her home tested six times higher than the acceptable radon level. 

When asked what she wants Utahns to know about radon, she shared, “That it is the number one cause of [non-smoking lung] cancer. And, by the time you know about it and do something about it, it could be way too late. If I'd known about this at stage one, it could have been a much easier [treatment].” After the diagnosis, Alexakos had her home mitigated by Utah Radon Services. The radon levels decreased from 13.0 pCi/L to 1.4 pCi/L.  

You can take steps to keep yourself and your loved ones safe. Most importantly, you can perform a simple, free, and reliable radon test to determine your home’s radon level.

“Most of the things we deal with in medicine, we’re always talking about a small chance of making a difference,”  Akerley noted. “If you’ve got a one in three chance of having a problem in your house today, at this moment, it's something that you should do something about. And it's something I want you to think about more than once over the course of the lifetime of living in a house.”

Risk of lung cancer? Request a free radon test for your home, visit UtahRadon.org.

Five ways to improve your Utah home’s winter air quality

Utah’s winter outdoor air quality is often worse than major metropolitan cities like Los Angeles and New York City, and poor air quality can reduce Utahn's life expectancy by up to 3.6 years. Experts attribute 2,500 and 8,000 premature deaths in Utah to air quality issues.

Air quality also puts a strain on the broader economy. According to a study that included University of Utah scholars, the economic cost of air pollution can total upwards of $3 billion annually. 

While Utah’s outdoor winter air quality receives a lot of attention, health experts say it’s just as important to pay attention to indoor air quality. According to the American Lung Association, Indoor air can be 2–5 times more polluted than outdoor air, and many Americans spend 90% of their time indoors. 

Indoor air can be 2-5 times more polluted than outdoor air. -American Lung Association

This winter, Utahns are advised to improve the air quality inside their homes by:

Replacing the furnace air filter

Air filters can last up to 6–12 months, but some need replacing sooner. HVAC professionals suggest Utahns check their air filters monthly and replace them as soon as they look dirty or full. Depending on how many people are in a home and how large the home is, replacing the filter more or less frequently may be necessary to maintain good air quality. 

It’s important to remember not all air filters are created equal. Air filters are ranked on a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) scale from 1–12, with 12 filtering the most particulates. A lower MERV filter might be a good fit if base particulates like pollen or dust mites are the only concern. However, if the home is exposed to tobacco smoke, is in an area with high outdoor pollution (like the Salt Lake Valley in the winter), or is at risk for mold spores, a filter on the higher end of the scale may be advisable. Normal furnace filters don’t impact gaseous pollutants in homes.

Testing for radon

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers, and Utah has four times more radon than the national average. In fact, one in three homes in Utah has dangerous radon levels (compared to 1 in 15 homes nationally). Because Utah homes are shut during the winter months and because snow and cold temperatures reduce the amount of radon that can escape outdoors, the concentration of radon inside a home can increase significantly during cold months.

This is an important issue for homes with families in particular. According to Nick Torres, an advocacy director of the American Lung Association, households with children should be extra wary as kids are more susceptible to radon.

The only way to detect radon is to test for it. Currently, all Utahns can get a free radon test at UtahRadon.org, and normally, tests can be purchased from the State. 

Even if a home has been tested before, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends testing every two years for radon.

The only way to detect radon is to test for it. [image courtesy of Alpha Energy Laboratories] 

Running an air purifier

Plenty of things can impact the air quality inside a home, including pollution, dust, dander, and other “particulate matter,” which refers to the solid and liquid particles in the air we breathe in that are far too small for the eye to see. Air purifiers help reduce the particulate matter load, thus reducing the likelihood of developing lung diseases, and some can also curb the spread of airborne viruses and bacteria.

A good quality air purifier can help keep all these irritants at bay. Purifiers have a limited range, so homeowners may need more than one in a home. Purifiers do not help with gas-based contaminants like radon and carbon monoxide.

Checking carbon monoxide detectors

Just like radon, carbon monoxide can’t be detected with human senses, so it’s crucial to have carbon monoxide detectors inside all homes. Like smoke detectors, these should be checked and cleaned regularly, and batteries should be replaced annually.

Carbon monoxide poisoning may start with flu-like symptoms and can eventually cause brain damage, so it’s important to maintain CO detectors to prevent exposure from being misdiagnosed as a seasonal illness. The EPA recommends placing one detector on every floor. These detectors generally cannot detect other harmful indoor gasses, like radon.

carbon monoxide detector
Replace batteries in carbon monoxide detectors annually

Increasing ventilation to avoid mold

Mold grows in humid, damp environments, and if mold grows in a home, it can cause many health issues. Many Utahns ignore the potential of mold growth because we live in such a dry environment, but it’s still a major concern in Utah.

Mold can start growing in a home in as little as 24 hours. To avoid mold growth, increase ventilation in bathrooms and laundry rooms using small fans. If moisture increases noticeably inside a home, use a dehumidifier to trap the humidity and return areas of a home to a healthy moisture level.

All of these measures can be understood as short-term solutions with long-term impacts. Testing for Radon is a short-term activity with potentially long-term implications — that’s the arc of outdoor and indoor air quality in Utah. The longer-term health impacts are best mitigated by regular, proactive actions by individual Utahns.

Utah leaders and radon survivors push for more testing

Radon Survivors - Radon is the No. 1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers and 1 in 3 Utah homes have dangerous levels, yet most homeowners are unaware.

In response, Utahns, who have been impacted by radon gas, shared a life-saving message — and an invitation for free radon testing — with KSL and UtahRadon.org as a part of National Radon Action Month.

Learn more about radon:

What is radon?

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that causes lung cancer, as one Utah woman explained in an article for KSL.com.

Where does radon come from?

Radon comes from the natural decay of uranium deposits in the ground. It seeps through foundations in homes and enters the air we breathe. It is the most concentrated at the lowest level of the home, especially during winter.

Why is radon dangerous?

Long-term exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and an estimated 21,000 Americans die annually from radon-induced lung cancer, according to information from the CDC.

How common is radon in Utah?

Utah has five times the national average of radon contamination. This is simply due to the higher concentration of uranium in the soil. Conservatively, 1 in 3 Utah homes have dangerous levels and while there are specific areas in Utah that have higher levels than others, every home should be tested for radon.

How is radon detected?

The only way to detect radon is to test for it. Testing is simple and only takes 15 minutes of your time over a 48-hour period. To get a free radon test, visit UtahRadon.org

How is radon removed?

Radon is removed through a process called sub-slab depressurization, or simply "mitigation." This process includes drilling a small hole in the home's foundation, creating a suction pit under the foundation, and installing a series of pipes connected to a fan that expels the radon gas safely to the outside air.

Most homes can be mitigated within a few hours. Mitigation typically costs between $1,700-$1,900. It is a permanent solution and requires very little maintenance.

Utah launches major radon testing effort led by experts, cancer survivors

Radon Testing Effort - In Utah, 1 in 3 homes has a high level of radioactive radon, a cancer-causing, naturally occurring gas that rises from the ground and into buildings. According to Dr. Wallace Akerley, a medical oncologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States and radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

This month, a consortium of radon-induced lung cancer survivors, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the University of Utah's Radon Lab, Akerley, radon professionals and UtahRadon.org are hoping to spread awareness about radon-induced lung cancer in Utah.

The group of advocates announced a goal for testing during the winter months when radon levels are highest.

"Radon is responsible for 21,000 deaths per year from lung cancer," Akerley said. "In Utah, we would like to have at least 21,000 people have a radon test performed in their house by Feb. 14."

It's imperative that every Utahn test. Recognize that if you test, you can fix it.

–Eleanor Divver, Utah Department of Environmental Quality

The hope is to recognize and honor the estimated 21,000 Americans that die each year from radon-induced lung cancer, while also matching or exceeding the rate of testing that occurred in Utah in 2023.

"It's imperative that every Utahn test. Recognize that if you test, you can fix it," said Eleanor Divver, radon project coordinator at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality

Divver also shared that if you have other pulmonary issues, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, radon can have a cascading impact, and that testing is crucial.

To meet the radon testing effort goal, Utah Radon Services is donating 21,000 free radon tests to UtahRadon.org. If a home tests high for radon, a certified radon mitigation company can install a permanent system in the home that will reduce the radon levels. Typically, this takes less than a day and costs between $1,700 and $1,900.

Non-smoking lung cancer is all too familiar to many Utahns, including Todd Smith, a Utah resident who lost his wife to the condition in late 2023.

"It didn't make sense that she had cancer. We didn't see it coming," Smith said. "Losing somebody to something like lung cancer is devastating. But, at the same time, there are also things you can do to avoid something like that."

Watch the video below to learn more about Todd's story.

Todd joined other community members such as Kerri Robbins, who received a stage 4 non-smoking lung cancer diagnosis after exposure to radon in her home, in advocating for awareness and testing.

"My diagnosis came because I did not know about radon. Our home's level was 31.3 pCi/L — it was like I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day," Robbins said. "It's so important to find out about radon and get a free test."

Since her diagnosis, Robbins has been on a mission to encourage every Utah resident to test for radon.

Watch the video below to learn more about Kerri's story.

To help reach the statewide goal and protect you and your loved ones, order your free radon test at UtahRadon.org. Click here to order a free test.

Radon: The radioactive gas that may be seeping into your home

By Sky Mundell, KSL.com | Posted - Jan. 25, 2024 at 7:58 a.m.

SALT LAKE CITY — January is National Radon Action Month and the American Lung Association wants to spread the message that Utahns should test their homes for radon (radioactive gas) contamination.

Radon is an odorless, colorless radioactive gas that, without mitigation, poses an environmental risk for the development of lung cancer in those who are exposed to it in lethal amounts.

"A little over 40% of radon tests in Utah find levels above the action level where the (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends that mitigation systems are installed," said Nick Torres, an advocacy director of the American Lung Association. Radon is particularly dangerous because it is a cancer-linked gas and virtually undetectable in any amount without proper testing.

Torres explained that the EPA's action level for immediate mitigation of radon levels is when an environment is tested and radon levels exceed 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter); however, Torres recommends that Utahns who test their homes and find levels at or exceeding 2 pCi/L should seriously consider consulting a radon expert to plan an appropriate radon mitigation plan.

Torres also advised that households with young children and babies be extra wary as children are more susceptible to sustaining damage to the respiratory system by inhaling radon (radioactive gas) because they breathe at a much quicker rate than full-grown adults — meaning in an environment contaminated with radon, children will breathe in the gas at a faster rate than adults.

While Utah in 2023 had the lowest rate of new lung cancer cases at just 25.2 cases per 100,000 people, radon is still a risk factor for lung cancer that advocates like the American Lung Association and survivors of radon-induced cancer are continually trying to make Utahns more aware of. Utah, like other mining states, tends to have more radon in its soil because radon is produced by the breaking down of uranium where the radon produced seeps into soil, rocks and bodies of water.

In homes, radon can seep in through cracks in the foundation and water systems to contaminate the air inside the home — according to utahradon.org, 1 in 3 homes in Utah are estimated to have dangerous radon levels.

"The average level is little over 5 pCi/L," said Torres, emphasizing how prevalent radon contamination can be in Utah homes. "Ten, 15, 20 pC/L is not unheard of; rates that are super high increase a person's risk for developing lung cancer. But, you just don't know unless you test."

The science isn't clear on how long and in what amounts humans can be exposed to radon (radioactive gas) gas without developing cancer. Hence, Torres recommends a proactive approach where households test for the gas regularly and consult a radon expert if radon levels from the testing indicate that immediate action should be taken.

"Radon testing can save your life or the life of your kids," said TJ Mellars, the general manager of Utah Radon Services, the state's largest radon mitigation company. He went on to explain that the risk factor of radon exposure can be compounded with other lung cancer risk factors like smoking to increase the person's chances of getting lung cancer.

Utah Radon Services, the American Lung Association, Hunstman Cancer Institute and several other entities have partnered to provide free radon test kits to Utahns, with the goal of having 21,000 homes tested by Valentine's Day this year. The significance of the number 21,000, Mellars explains, is that 21,000 is the number of estimated deaths each year in the U.S. that can be attributed to radon-induced cancer.

Kerri Robbins, a radon awareness activist based in Utah, didn't even know what radon was several months into her recovery from radon-induced tumors on her lungs and her brain. It wasn't until she saw a nonsmoking cancer specialist after her diagnosis of stage 4 nonsmoking lung cancer that she learned her home had outstandingly high levels of radon contamination, saying, "Our home's level was 31.3 pCi/L — it was like I was smoking three packs of cigarettes a day."

Robbins immediately got in contact with Utah Radon Services and had a mitigation system installed in her home and is thankfully now making a great recovery, visiting her doctor every four months to make sure the cancer stays at bay. Robbins tells KSL that she has since taken it upon herself to inform everyone she can about radon and the importance of radon testing.

"I just feel like God has opened many doors and we're just walking through them doing what we can do," said Robbins, referencing her and her husband's mission to raise awareness among Utahns to get their homes tested for radon. She cautioned that even if you aren't aware of radon, it doesn't mean that it can't affect you — adding that she later found out that half of the homes in her neighborhood tested positive for dangerous levels of radon.

Robbins, Mellars and Torres each agree that the time to test your home for radon is now — to order your free test, visit utahradon.org.

Credit: By Sky Mundell, KSL.com

How to protect your pets (and your family) from radon

radon and pets

Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, but did you know it can harm your pets, too?

What is radon?

Radon is a carcinogenic gas that rises from the ground into buildings. It is created from uranium deposits in the soil, and because Utah has high levels of uranium, it has high levels of radon. In fact, over half of homes in Utah have high radon levels.

How does radon harm pets?

Like humans, radon can cause lung cancer in dogs, cats, and other household pets. Our senses can’t detect radon, so the physical damage often goes undetected until the disease has made significant progress. To keep your pets (and your family) as healthy as possible, it’s important to reduce radon exposure as much as possible. We are here to help your pets live long, happy lives!

How can I protect my pets from radon?

The most important step you can take for the health of your pets and family is to test your home for radon. If your home tests high, there are cost-effective steps you can take to reduce your home’s radon level with a radon mitigation system. Click here to order a free test donated by Utah Radon Services.