The number of people working from home has increased dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted conventional workplaces. While most workers enjoy the flexibility of working from home, few realize their residences could put them at risk. That’s because radon — an invisible radioactive gas devoid of odor — can seep into homes from the ground.
Since radon is impossible to detect through human senses alone, people who have been exposed to it often don’t know until serious health problems develop. “You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You can’t taste it,” says Insoo Park, Founder and CEO of Ecosense, manufacturer of radon monitoring solutions. “Guess what the leading cause of lung cancer in people who do not smoke is? Yes — it’s radon. That’s why our company creates radon detection and monitoring devices that can track radon levels in real time and provide accurate results.”
If you work from home, you are more likely than the average person to be exposed to elevated levels of radon. The good news is that there are steps you can take today to reduce your risk of exposure to this deadly gas.
The risk of radon exposure to children
Radon comes from the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium in soil and rock. These elements turn into a gas that infiltrates buildings through the tiniest cracks and holes. Even common areas, such as foundation walls, floor joints, and gaps around pipes and cables present opportunities for radon to penetrate your home.
Scientifically rigorous, peer-reviewed epidemiologic studies performed over the past 30 years confirm that radon exposure increases one’s risk of lung cancer. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 21,000 deaths each year are attributed to radon.
“The degree of lung cancer risk depends on the amount of radon you are exposed to over time,” Park explains. “The more radon you breathe in, the greater your risk will be. Yet there are no early-warning signs like headaches or nausea.”
If that wasn’t already bad enough, children are particularly vulnerable to radon exposure. According to the US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “A child’s different lung shape, size, and breathing rates compared to adults means higher estimated radiation doses. [The] risk of lung cancer in children resulting from exposure to radon may be almost twice as high as the risk to adults exposed to the same amount of radon. If children are also exposed to tobacco smoke, the risk of lung cancer is at least 20 times greater.”
Detecting and removing radon
To mitigate these risks, it’s important to test and monitor specifically for radon. “It’s simple and easy to evaluate your home’s radon levels,” Park says. “You don’t need to hire a professional. All you have to do is buy an inexpensive detector at a hardware store or online. Ecosense makes a series of smart radon monitors that start reporting results in about 10 minutes, collect data continuously, and cost less than $200 each. For families of all kinds, but especially for people who work from home, devices like these offer the most peace of mind.”
An estimated 1 in 15 American homes have an average indoor radon concentration at or above the EPA’s action level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) and need to be fixed. But since radon levels below 4 pCi/L still pose a risk, the EPA says to consider fixing homes where the average is above 2 pCi/L.
“Don’t try to fix it yourself,” Park says. “At that point, you should hire professionals. It’s not necessarily expensive, but properly installing a radon mitigation system can be complicated and requires specialized tools, knowledge, and skill. It isn’t something you want to mess around with by yourself.”
Ensuring your family’s safety
Imagine if your family was in danger of being exposed to radiation from another source, such as the meltdown of a nuclear power plant. You would do everything in your power to protect them from this threat.
Because radon levels fluctuate throughout the day and from season to season, continuous radon monitoring using an affordable system provides a convenient way to ensure your family is safe at all times. “You would never knowingly put anyone in danger,” Park says. “Radon-induced lung cancer is entirely preventable! Now it’s time to take steps to protect you and your family from radon exposure in your home.”
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