BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - When gas leaks in your home, you usually smell it. When you have a mold problem you see it, but when it comes to the odorless gas known as radon, the only way to know it’s there is by testing. The radioactive gas can cause serious health issues and it’s currently at high levels in some central Alabama counties.
Radon is a natural occurring radioactive gas. It is created by the decay of Uranium in rock, soil, and water. Outside, the gas doesn’t pose many threats, but the trouble starts when it enters buildings through cracks and openings. Inside, the gas can build up to dangerous levels in your home, work, or school without you even knowing.
"It's everywhere. It's in every county in the United States and you don't have any idea on whether it's here or not because you can't see it, smell it, taste it. There's only one way to find out,” John Hart with Ocean Breezes Home Inspections said.
Hart with Ocean Breeze Home inspections has conducted radon tests throughout different states for years. A Radon map from the Environmental Protection Agency shows a majority of counties in the WBRC viewing area have elevated levels of radon. According to the EPA’s Radon map, a handful of east Alabama counties have the highest levels of the odorless gas which can cause cancer. The EPA and the Alabama Department of Public Health recommends every home be tested. Exposure to high levels of the gas can lead to significant health problems.
"How radon works is it is a gas and it breaks down to a small radioactive element that you can breathe it in and when we breath in this small element, it can attach to the lining of our cells lining the airwaves and it can damage the DNA and lead potentially to lung cancer,” Dr. Hafez Hayek, a pulmonologist said.
After smoking, Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer. Every year, the EPA estimates Radon causes 20,000 deaths around the country.
“I think they are starting to realize now that not all those people were cigarette smoke, a lot of it was their own home,” Hart said.
Again, only testing can reveal if this risk exists. And while the government recommends testing, it's not a law in Alabama.
"Every house, every building that is occupied should be tested. You could be the only one in the neighborhood that does or does not have a radon issue. You can't really go by what the neighbors have or what the county has in general,” Henri Boyea a Radon mitigation and testing professional said.
Another troubling thing we found is state law doesn’t require property owners to disclose radon testing information to tenants who rent from them. The state health department offers free radon testing kits.
You can find out about how you can get a free Radon testing kit here: http://www.alabamapublichealth.gov/radon/radon-testing.html
Read more about Radon related facts to keep your family safe here: https://www.epa.gov/radon/basic-radon-facts