Alachua County and the Interstate 4 corridor are home to soil that contains radium, which can result in radon poisoning, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States behind smoking. This week is Radon Action Week, a national program to promote awareness.
Radon is a radioactive gas formed from the breakdown of uranium byproducts.
“You can’t see it; you can’t smell it; you can’t taste it,” said Chris Bird, the director of the Alachua County Environmental Protection Department.
The medical research showing the effects of radon poisoning has only been around for about 25 years. The American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute all emphasize the health dangers associated with radon poisoning.
“It can actually get attached to your lung tissue, and that is where it can do the damage,” Bird said.
A study released by Harvard University in November 2011 called radon the No. 1 in-home health hazard.
Bird said being exposed to low concentrations of radon for long periods of time can have a lasting impact. He said he thinks events like Radon Action Week will continue to help with awareness.
He also said testing for radon is important, especially in North Central Florida. Kits for radon testing, including charcoal canisters and charcoal liquid scintillation detectors, can be purchased at hardware and home-supply stores.
Radon testing can be requested for houses in Florida. This testing is mandatory for public and private schools, state-owned and state-operated 24-hour care facilities and all state-licensed day care centers in counties labeled as “Elevated Radon Potential.”
It can cost a couple thousand dollars to reduce the radon to safe levels, according to Bird. He said to remember this in the grand scheme, especially when purchasing a house, a couple thousand dollars for this safety precaution costs less than designing a new kitchen.
“Some people think, oh, you can just open the windows,” Bird said. “It might work when the weather allows that, but in Florida in the summer, that’s not very practical for most people.”
There are methods used in the construction of new homes to help keep radon gas out. For older homes, vacuum systems can be put in, so the radon gas can bypass the living space, according to Bird.
Ariana Lipkin contributed to this story