Today in Science
National Radon Action Month
Each January, National Radon Action Month highlights the dangers of a poisonous gas that is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.
Radon is a clear, odorless, tasteless gas that occurs when uranium found naturally in soil breaks down. It rises through pockets of air in the soil and is released into the air, where it dissipates. However, when a structure is located over the rising radon, the gas can enter the building through microscopic holes in the foundation, cracks in solid floors or walls, construction joints, gaps in suspended floors or around service pipes, cavities inside walls, and a ground water supply, such as a well. It then becomes trapped in the building in quantities dangerous to humans.
Radon breaks down into radioactive particles that can be trapped in your body when you breathe a lot of it in. These particles can continue to break down within your body, causing damage to lung tissue and, over time, can lead to lung cancer. It is estimated that radon is responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. every year and is second only to smoking as a cause of the illness. People who smoke and who have a radon problem in their homes are particularly susceptible.
Nearly one out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels, and radon is can be a problem in both new and old homes, homes with and without basements or adequate insuluation, homes next to buildings without a radon problem, and in every state. Radon levels also change over time, so it is important to test for changes every couple years. The Environmental Protection Agency recommends testing all homes below the third floor, as well as schools, to determine whether radon is present at unsafe levels. Kits are available at hardware stores that you can use yourself, or companies exist who can run tests for you, and equipment can be installed in your home to reduce the amount of radon it contains.
To learn more about radioactivity, cancer, and the respiratory system, check out these resources:
- The Human Body App (K-5)
- Bottled Model Lungs (3-5)
- Systems of the Human Body (3-5)
- The Atom and Nuclear Science (3-12)
- Organs (6-12)
- The Oxygen Machine (6-8)
- Cancer-Sniffing Dogs (6-12)
- Tumbleweeds (6-12)
- Cancer Risks (9-12)
- The Chernobyl Disaster (9-12)
- Dangers of Radiation Exposure (9-12)
- Radioactive Decay: A Sweet Simulation of a Half-Life (9-12)
- Toxicology 3: Toxicology and Human Health (9-12)