The car is parked and the passengers have exited the vehicle, laden with beach gear and grateful for the sandals that shield their feet from hot asphalt and sand. With the sun shining brightly from a cloudless sky, it’s a perfect day for the beach. If you linger long enough in the beach parking lot, you’ll hear the same conversations repeat as beachgoers make their way to the water:
“Don’t forget the umbrella.”
“Does everybody have a hat?
“I hope we have enough sunscreen.”
“What happened to my sunglasses?”
“I wish I brought a long-sleeved shirt.”
In case you haven’t already noticed, the common theme in this dialog is the protection that everyone needs from the sun’s powerful rays. The harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun go way beyond nasty sunburns. Most people know that overexposure to UV radiation can cause skin cancer. It’s also common knowledge that at least one type of skin cancer -malignant melanoma-can spread quickly enough to be fatal.
Radon gas causes cancer too, but people aren’t as careful or concerned about radon exposure as they are about overexposure to the sun. So what makes people more careful about UV exposure than they are about radon exposure? The answer probably has something to do with the sun’s ability to cause immediate discomfort. We can’t see ultraviolet light, but its harmful effects can be felt quickly if we get sunburned or have to walk barefoot over the solar-heated pavement.
Breathing radon gas causes no immediate discomfort. Radon gas is invisible and odorless. Because we can’t see, feel or smell radon, it’s easy to overlook radon’s harmful potential. But the long-term consequences of radon exposure are undeniable. This indoor air pollutant causes over 21,000 deaths every year in the U.S. Just as with UV exposure, children are especially vulnerable to the cell damage that results from radon exposure.
Guarding Against Radon
Protecting your family from radon can be just as easy as protecting family members from too much sun -perhaps even more so. A do-it-yourself radon test kit designed for homeowners costs less than what you’d pay for most beach umbrellas. DIY radon test kits are available at hardware stores, home centers, and online. These kits are easy to use and yield accurate results if you follow the manufacturer’s directions.
If test results show a hazardous level of radon gas (4 or more picocuries per liter), there’s no need to panic. Health risks come with long-term exposure, and this can be avoided by calling in a radon a licensed radon mitigation specialist. The price of a typical radon abatement system will certainly exceed a summer’s-worth of beach passes. But protection against cancer-causing radiation is even more important in your house than it is on the beach. And once a radon system is installed, it provides effective protection against radon exposure for years with very little maintenance. The only moving part of a radon abatement system is an exhaust fan that costs less to run every month than a tube of your best sunscreen.