What's the real risk of exposure to radon gas?

5:27 PM, Sep 13, 2011   |    comments
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By Kay Quinn Healthbeat Reporter

St. Louis (KSDK) - Radon gas exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in this country after smoking, and it's blamed for 21,000 deaths.

In this week's "8 Ways to Prevent Cancer Segment," a look at what your risk may be and how you can change it.

It's been called an invisible threat. Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas resulting from decaying radium in the rock and soil under your home.

It can seep into your basement and lower levels through cracks in the foundation. The amount varies depending on the rock and soil underneath your home, and the amount of ventilation in the room.

"So if there's more ventilation, circulation of air out of a basement the actual concentration of radon will be lower," said Dr. Graham Colditz, Niess-Gain professor in the School of Medicine at Washington University, Chief of the Division of Public Health Sciences, Department of Surgery, and Associate Director of Prevention Control at Siteman Cancer Center.

Combine smoking with radon exposure, and your risk for lung cancer is 10 to 20 times higher than a non-smoker.

It's believed 6 million homes in the U.S. have elevated radon levels. Quitting smoking, getting your home tested, increasing ventilation and sealing cracks in your home's foundation can help keep you healthy.

"My guess is in Missouri the exposure is still pretty low in the basement," says Dr. Colditz. "The houses are not super air tight at the best of times so there's going to be some additional ventilation helping keep exposure down."


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