Can the ground cause lung cancer?

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Can the ground cause lung cancer?

A potential danger may be lurking beneath your feet. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and a leading cause of lung cancer, second only to smoking.

Radon is a radioactive gas produced through the natural decay of uranium in the soil. As radon decays, it releases radioactive particles. When inhaled, these particles can damage the lungs and increase the risk for lung cancer.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among people who do not smoke. Unlike carbon monoxide and other home pollutants (see back page), radon’s adverse health effects are not produced immediately. Symptoms can include shortness of breath, a new or worsening cough, pain or tightness in the chest, hoarseness, or trouble swallowing.

Because radon enters a building through the ground, lower levels, such as basements, tend to have higher levels. According to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), 41 percent of Illinois homes tested for radon had levels higher than the action level of 4.0 picoCuries per liter (pCi/L).

The central and northern regions of Illinois have radon levels higher than other areas of the state. According to IEMA’s online radon dashboard, the average radon result for Edgar County is 4.5 pCi/L, with Clark County at 3.0 pCi/L. However, these readings should not be used to determine whether a home should be tested for radon. The data include only the highest measurement for each address that was submitted by licensed measurement and mitigation professionals.

In Indiana, one in three homes has a radon level above the recommended action level of 4.0 pCi/L, according to estimates from the Indiana State Department of Health. Vigo County has a “moderate” potential for indoor radon levels at 2 to 4 pCi/L.

Testing the air is the only way to determine radon levels. The EPA recommends testing a home for radon every two years. IEMA strongly recommends homebuyers have an indoor radon test performed prior to purchasing or occupying a home.

How to test

Low cost, “do-it-yourself” test kits can be purchased from hardware stores or online. Or, testing can be done by a qualified radon mitigator. A list of professional testers/ mitigators is available at In Indiana, visit testers_mitigators_list.PDF.

There are no widely available medical tests to measure someone’s exposure to radon. Talk with your healthcare provider if you believe you might have been exposed and are at risk for lung problems.