Have you ever heard of radon? Radon is a natural gas that forms from the breakdown of radioactive metals (such as uranium, thorium, or radium) in rocks, soil, and groundwater.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. Breathing air with radon is dangerous because radon gas decays into particles that damage the lungs, and if exposure goes on for long enough, can cause lung cancer. Unfortunately, radon can be present in the air in our homes when this natural gas leaks in through cracks in floors and walls.

In fact, one in 8 Vermont homes has unsafe levels of radon—but you may never know it because radon gas has no color, smell, or taste.

What can you do to protect yourself and your family from radon exposure?

Having your home tested for radon is the best way to determine what you and your family’s exposure level is.

The Vermont Department of Health offers FREE radon testing kits through its Radon Program. All you have to do is call 800-439-8550 or email radon@vermont.govto request your free kit. It is recommended that you test your home for 3 to 12 months to ensure the most accurate measure of exposure—the longer, the better.

The CDC has suggestions and information for decreasing you and your family’s risk of radon exposure:

  • Your risk of lung cancer from radon greatly increases if you are also a smoker, or if there is smoking in your home. Quitting smoking and discouraging others from smoking in your home is important for many reasons, including decreasing your family’s risks of developing radon-associated lung cancer. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 86% of radon-related lung cancer deaths happen to current or former smokers.
  • The CDC recommends increasing air flow in your house by opening windows and using fans and vents to circulate air. While this is not a permanent fix, it is a good temporary strategy to reduce radon. Sealing cracks in floors and walls with plaster or caulk is another, more permanent way of reducing radon exposure.
  • If you are buying a new home, ask about radon resistant construction techniques
  • If you find you have radon problems, contact Vermont’s radon program for information about how to fix the problem. Always re-test after finishing any improvements to be sure you have fixed the problem.
  • If you have well water, it is possible radon is present there as well. Again, contact Vermont’s radon program for water testing kits to be sure your water is safe.

For more information, use the resources below

For help quitting smoking:

  • 802QUITS is a state resource for Vermonters who wish to quit smoking. There are many free services, including free nicotine replacement like gum, patches, or lozenges, that can be shipped right to you.
    • Go to 802quits.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (784-8669) to get started

Maggie Graham, MD, is a family medicine resident at Milton Family Practice. 

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