The dangers of radon. Are you at risk?

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J. Rob Headrick, M.D., thoracic surgeon, CHI Memorial Chest and Lung Cancer Center

Radon is an odorless, colorless gas that is a natural by-product of our environment and soil. It’s produced by decaying uranium and is found in nearly all types of soil. It’s also the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking.

Radon can’t be seen or tasted, and you don’t feel its effects – just like the radiation you get from an x-ray. Radiation exposure, like filling up a bathtub, is cumulative. Every radiation exposure adds up over time. When you travel to a higher elevation or fly in an airplane, you’re being exposed to background radiation. Although these small exposures aren’t dangerous, with enough unique exposures the bathtub will overflow.

The biggest challenge with radon is that we don’t see or feel it, and many people don’t know to check for it. Because the amount of radon seeping into your home is likely different than your next-door neighbor, you can’t assume you’re safe. In fact, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation considers radon a serious problem, no matter what county you live in.

Click here for a map of radon zones in Tennessee, based on Environmental Protection Agency Data.

According to the EPA, any radon exposure has some risk of causing lung cancer. Although no amount of radon exposure is considered safe, they’ve set a standard of 4 pCi/L, or picocuries per liter of air. The EPA recommends when radon levels of 2 – 4 pCi/L are present in your home, corrective measures should be taken. The lower level of radon in your home the better, and no amount is considered safe.

A Simple Test

Testing is the only way to know the radon level in your home. Any time you’re buying a home, an inexpensive radon test can tell you a home’s specific radon levels. Radon testing is required in most residential real estate purchases, and it will help you make a decision about whether to purchase the home or if specific radon mitigation must be done to reduce exposure. Many radon problems can be fixed through DIY methods, or you can seek help from a certified radon mitigator.

To learn more about the harmful effects of radon and what to do to protect yourself, visit and search “Tennessee Radon Program.” You can also request a free radon test.

Even though we can’t see or feel radon, its effects are real and can lead to lung cancer. Many people have died because they didn’t know they were at risk. Don’t wait – take this free and easy step to protect your and your family’s health today.

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Doctor Talk, CHI Memorial's blog, focuses on health and welness.