January is National Radon Awareness Month. Radon comes from the breakdown of trace amounts of uranium in our soil.  As a gas, it moves up into our homes where it is trapped and presents a danger to us in the form of lung cancer. Radon is considered the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking.

As a former radon measurement technician, I know about the importance of testing your home, and the effects of radon really hit close to home a few years ago. I was in the same neighborhood that my grandmother lived in about 25 years prior. I was there to pick up a radon test, and my equipment indicated a level of about 17.0 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) – the recommended remediation level is 4 pCi/L, so this measurement was clearly extremely high.

After leaving the house, I cruised through the old neighborhood and I noticed many houses that had radon remediation systems.    Their white PVC piping terminating above the roofs and fan housings near foundations were an obvious give away.  It’s possible that there were probably just as many on the opposite side and rear of the houses that I could not see.

It got me thinking.

My grandmother died of lung cancer, and her death was a little perplexing because she was never a smoker.  My parents just assumed it was related to her growing up in the “smoky city” that Pittsburgh has been known for. She grew up near the old American Bridge Steel facility where my grandfather worked.

Though scientists were aware of the dangers of radon at the time, it had not yet become a common issue to check a home for such during a sale.

My state training has told me that just because one house has high levels of radon, it doesn’t mean the one next door will (and vice versa). I have certainly encountered such situations.

However, after seeing so many houses with radon mitigation systems near and around my grandmother’s old home, I seriously wonder if the reason for her death had more to do with radon than living in the “smoky city.”  In my profession, I have heard people talk about radon testing and mitigation as being an excuse for home inspectors to make a buck on an unnecessary service.  However, I could not think of a more important, lifesaving service for people to have during a home sale and inspection.

Exposure to radon is a preventable health risk. For more information about radon and testing for radon, or to order a radon test kit, visit www.breathepa.org/radon-test-kit.