Indoor radon kills 70 times more people annually than accidental carbon monoxide poisoning in U.S. homes. Yet most people are more aware of carbon monoxide poisoning tragedies because they make the news.
So said William J. Angell, housing studies professor and director of the Midwest Universities Radon Consortium.
About 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year are the result of exposure to indoor radon in U.S. homes, according to risk assessments conducted by the National Academies of Sciences and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"The importance of effective radon control cannot be overemphasized," said Angell. Everyone who lives in a house or a ground-contacted apartment or condominium, whether new or existing, should test their homes, he said. Test devices are inexpensive and you can get them by contacting state radon officials listed at www.epa.gov/iaq/whereyoulive.html.
Angell, who also chairs the Prevention and Mitigation Working Group of the World Health Organization's (WHO) International Radon Project, noted that a scientific review sponsored by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention released in January 2009 identified radon mitigation as a key strategy needed for healthy housing.
The review was conducted by 32 of the nation's top housing and health experts, who assessed more than 170 scientific studies of 50 interventions used to improve health-related conditions in housing. The experts' assessments are found in a new report, "Housing Interventions and Health: A Review of the Evidence."
"This assessment of the importance of radon control in the U.S. is consistent with the global views of the WHO's International Radon Project," Angell said.
Angell predicts that international guidelines will likely become more protective in the near future. WHO will release its Radon Handbook to about 200 member countries in coming months; Angell is an author of one section of the guidelines. He expects that WHO will recommend radon levels 40 percent lower than the current action level in the United States, greatly increasing the number of homes that will need radon mitigation.
Radon is mitigated in most homes by using soil depressurization, reversing the air pressure difference between the soil and the indoors. In a small number of houses, ventilation may be required. In schools and larger buildings, adjusting the operation of ventilation systems may be used to change air pressure relationships or ventilation rates.