Radon Heightens Dangers



The colorless and tasteless gas radon, combined with a cigarette, can be deadly, officials said.

“Scientists feel that radon is the leading cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers and the second-leading cause for smokers after active smoking,” said David Burton, environmental health program manager for the Barren River Area Health Department based in Bowling Green.

“It’s a naturally occurring gas that can enter your lungs,” Burton said Monday.

Ellen Hahn, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing and College of Public Health, directs the Clean Indoor Air Partnership and the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy. This spring she looked at the aspects of the two in a study: “Freedom from Radon Exposure and Smoking in the Home.”

“If you’re exposed to radon and tobacco smoke, either through personal use or second-hand smoke, your risk of lung cancer increases tenfold,” Hahn said in a news release.

The Kentucky Institute for Rural Health this week is trying harder to get the word out about Hahn’s findings.

While the whole state is at risk, Warren County is in a region dubbed the radon belt, where the risk is most high. That region also includes Allen, Barren, Monroe, Metcalfe and Hart counties.

Hahn urged residents to test their homes for radon every two years and to minimize exposure to second- and third-hand smoke.

Burton said if a home tests above 4.0 picocuries (pCi) per liter of air for the presence of radon, remediation should start.

An average measurement of radon inside a home is 1.3 pCi per liter and outside the home 0.6 pCi per liter.

Hahn said Kentucky laws don’t “adequately” protect people through mandating testing and monitoring of radon levels or smoke-free protections.

Radon causes lung decay, Burton said. Combined with lung decay from smoking cigarettes, the combination elevates a person’s health risks, he said.

Since southcentral Kentucky is a karst topography area, the air pockets underground in this area lead to the radon gas circulating more, Burton said.

Radon is a radioactive gas. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils, noted the Kentucky Radon Program website.

Radon from soil gas is the main cause of radon problems. Sometimes radon enters the home through well water. In a small number of homes, the building materials give off radon. However, building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves, the Kentucky Radon Program website noted.

Nearly 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. is estimated to have elevated radon levels, the Kentucky Program website noted.

Radon may enter a home in cracks in solid floors, construction joints, cracks in walls, gaps in suspended floors and service pipes, cavities inside walls and also in the water supply, the Kentucky Radon Program website noted.

Burton urged homeowners to purchase radon test kits at local home improvement stores.

Radon causes an estimated 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States every year, according to the Federal Radon Action plan.

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