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Invisible and Odorless, Radon Poses Risks to Lungs
Date:3/12/2011

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, March 11 (HealthDay News) -- It may be hard to think of radiation as a present and serious environmental health concern in the United States, much less one with the potential to affect nearly every home in the country.

But a radioactive gas known as radon is responsible for an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

"It's the second leading cause of lung cancer, and, for non-smokers, it is the leading cause of lung cancer," said Kristy Miller, a spokeswoman for the indoor environments division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "It is invisible and odorless. It causes no symptoms. You possibly may be breathing in high levels and not even know it."

Radon gas is created by the breakdown of uranium in rocks, soil and water. It seeps up through the ground and into homes through foundation cracks and crawl spaces.

"It's a naturally occurring decay product of uranium," said Dr. Michael Thun, vice president of epidemiology and surveillance research for the American Cancer Society. "Radon is one of the avoidable known carcinogens to which many people are exposed at a range of levels. Compared to cigarette smoking, it's a very small risk, but across the population, it is a significant risk. And, it is avoidable."

Outside, radon seeping up from the ground floats away into the atmosphere, causing no harm. But a building acts as a container for any radon seeping up from beneath it, capturing the gas and allowing it to concentrate.

Houses in the Northeast and Midwest tend to have higher radon levels than those elsewhere in the United States, Thun said.

And don't think that new homes are less likely to have dangerous levels of radon. "Any type of home, regardless of its age or where it's located, has the potential of having high levels," Miller said. "If your home has contact with the eart
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