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Radon: The silent killer in your home

Tobacco smoke in a home is easy to detect as it drifts through the air or leaves its odor in clothes or furniture. Its health toll is equally as obvious as the leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S.

Less obvious and almost as deadly is radon, an odorless gas that causes 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. It's a bigger concern during cold winters like the one we've just experienced when radon levels sky rocket in well-sealed homes.

The odorless gas is caused by the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and water and seeps into homes through drains and cracks in the foundation. While radon is natural in the air, levels can be harmful when it is trapped inside a house.

In the U.S. 1 in 15 homes have unsafe radon levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency website.

While the EPA website has a map of zones in the U.S. showing areas that may have higher radon levels, Janice Nolen, assistant vice president at the American Lung Association, said people cannot assume they do not have a radon problem.

"We've had cases where the house next store was fine but the next one over had a problem with radon," Nolen said. "Across the country in every single state there have been cases of houses with high radon levels."

Now a push for more radon awareness is coming from the Canadian Partnership for Children's Health and Environment, an affiliation of groups set on improving children's environmental health. The partnership hopes radon home testing becomes as common as the fire alarm and carbon monoxide alarm precautions people take in their homes.

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