Utah is unique. We are renowned for our interesting culinary habits (think green Jell-O salads and funeral potatoes), unparalleled natural beauty (the “Big 5” National Parks), or our slightly odd vernacular (is it “for” or “fir”?). What we are also known for within the medical community may surprise you too: our high radon.
We should take pride in the fact of having the lowest cigarette smoking rate in the United States. That should mean low rates of lung cancer deaths…right? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Even with the lowest smoking rate in the nation, lung cancer is still the #1 cause of cancer deaths in Utah. How is this possible?
Ever heard of radon? The scientific and medical communities certainly know about it and Utah has earned their attention for its high radon levels and the associated resident illnesses/deaths. Testing data shows that 1 in 3 homes in Utah has dangerous levels of radon gas. That’s 5 times higher than the national average per the EPA. Why does high radon matter? Because radon is the #1 environmental cause of cancer deaths and the #2 cause of lung cancer deaths (smoking being the #1 cause). Radon is literally killing hundreds of Utahns every year.
If these numbers made you drop your oversized Swig drink on the floor, we understand. The shocking reality is many Utah families suffer from the effects of radon, yet most of us have never even heard of radon!
As Utahns (another unique word some of us love and some of us hate), we deserve to know the basics about radon so here we go:
What is Radon Gas?
Radon gas is a radioactive, invisible, colorless, and odorless gas that can cause lung cancer. It forms from the natural breakdown of uranium in the ground. Once released, it can collect to unhealthy levels in homes and buildings. The more uranium under your home, the more likely you will have a radon problem.
Why is Radon Gas Dangerous?
Radon is ionizing radiation. Unlike in superhero movies, ionizing radiation does not give you superhuman strength but causes harmful mutations in cells and causes cancer. The World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Environmental Protection Agency have all classified radon gas as a known human carcinogen. This classification is the result of biological and epidemiological evidence over the last 50 years showing the relationship between radon gas exposure and lung cancer in humans.
Radon gas is the #1 cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the #2 cause among smokers. An estimated 22,000 people die every year in the United States from radon-induced lung cancer. New studies also suggest other health risks may be associated with radon gas including Leukemia, brain tumors, and Parkinson's.
Where is Radon Gas Found?
Radon gas is found in every part of Utah. Areas with higher uranium in the ground will likely have higher radon problems. It doesn’t take much uranium to cause a radon problem. There are many instances where a house has a high radon level and the next-door neighbor does not. How can this be? The high radon level home had just a little more uranium than the neighbor. Again, it doesn’t take much uranium to cause a radon problem.
How is Radon Gas Measured?
Radon gas is measured in picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L). The higher the pCi/L, the higher the risk for lung cancer.
Outdoor air has an average of 0.4 pCi/L. (U.S. average)
Indoor air has an average of 1.3 pCi/L (U.S. average)
Utah has an indoor average of 5.3 pCi/L (Like smoking half a pack of cigarettes daily)
The only way to determine the radon level of a home or building is to test for it. This is a simple 48-hour test followed by a laboratory processing the test sample and providing the results. The results will be given in pCi/L. While no amount of radon gas is considered safe, the World Health Organization recommends homes with 2.7 pCi/L or more be mitigated. It is easy and free to do your own radon test.
To get a FREE radon test kit, go to utahradonservices.com/radon-test or call Utah Radon Services at 801-871-0715.
How is Radon Gas Removed?
The standard and effective way to remove/reduce radon gas is through a process called Active Soil Depressurization (ASD). This process collects radon gas under the home’s foundation and draws it through a series of pipes connected to a radon fan that expels the gas to the outside air.
Installing a radon mitigation system should be done by a certified American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists (AARST) technician. The mitigation system typically takes 3-4 hours to have installed and most systems can lower the home’s radon levels to 2.0 pCi/L or below. The cost for installing an average radon system in Utah is around $1600.
Living in Utah is a truly unique experience. The majority of what Utah offers, as quirky as some things are, is worth bragging about. What we don’t want to be known for is our radon-induced lung cancer rates.
The U.S. Surgeon General stated, “It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques.” Every home should be tested for radon. It’s easy and Utah Radon Services is offering free radon test kits. Request a free radon test kit to protect your family now.