Radon exposure is a reality for anyone who lives in Nevada, and January is national radon exposure action month. Exposure to radon comes in the form of a gas that, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “you cannot smell, taste or see.”
While rumors have spread that the testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada has increased the chances of radon exposure in the silver state, there is no proof that the testing has any direct correlation. Instead, according to Dr. Don Deever, UNR Extension Educator based in Caliente, the radon gas comes from the natural decay of minerals like radium, thorium and uranium as they break down in the soil and groundwater below people’s homes.
According to a study conducted by National Radon Defense, Lincoln County has one of the highest exposure rates in Nevada. People in Lincoln County are three times more likely to be exposed to radon than in any other part of the state, so it’s a threat worth paying attention to.
The effects of radon exposure can be hazardous, and according to the CDC, it is especially harmful to smokers, causing “20,000 lung cancer deaths in the U.S. each year,” a fact backed up by Deever during his most recent report to the Lincoln County Coalition. Radon exposure can increase your chances of being diagnosed with lung cancer. The CDC adds that these chances could be further increased when “you burn wood, coal or other substances that add particles to the indoor air.” The CDC encourages smokers who live in high exposure areas to try and quit smoking, since there’s a much higher risk of lung cancer thanks to the combination of these two factors.
So, with such a threat to our communities right beneath our feet, what can we do to prevent exposure? One answer comes from the Caliente Extension Office, which is offering Radon Exposure Measurement kits over the next two months. Each kit contains a pack of activated charcoal, which when set in an area with a circulating breeze, can measure the natural radon levels in a building. As long as the airflow in the house is not too high and the kit is placed on a low but not ground-level surface, the kit should be able to get an accurate measurement of a home’s radon exposure in a matter of hours. You’ll need to send the kit to the lab for testing, and then results should be determined in a few days.
Testing for radon exposure is only half of the battle, however. Once you know if your home has been exposed, then you’ll need to make adjustments to stem the flow of radon gas. This could include using fans and air conditioners to make sure there’s a steady flow of fresh air. Another simple fix is to seal up cracks in the floor of your home where radon gases could emanate from. In the case of a home under construction, a simple barrier (like a tarp) could be placed between the dirt and the foundation of the home to ensure that the results of these naturally decaying minerals are separated from the house.
Some members of the community have reported their homes couldn’t be sold without a proper measurement of radon levels, and Deever notes having low radon exposure in a home raises property values.