Radon is one of the scariest things that can turn up in a house. It's the second most common cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and kills an estimated 500 New Jerseyans a year, experts say.
Despite the risk, most people think about radon only when it's time to buy or sell a home, when buyers request that the house be tested for the colorless, odorless gas. But experts say homeowners should check for it even if they're not planning to move.
The remediation system travels out the roof in this Oradell home. The gas is the result of the natural breakdown of radioactive material in the ground and can be hazardous when trapped inside a house.
A remediation system traveling up through the basement floor.
"We don't want people to just wait till they're selling their home to fix radon problems," says Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health of the American Lung Association in New Jersey.
How to test a home
The severe drought baking some parts of the United States—particularly California and the Pacific Northwest—may be increasing the risk of radon gas inside homes.
s water tables drop in some areas, lower depths that can contain uranium and radon are exposed, according to experts. As the uranium ore decays over time, it produces radon, a radioactive gas that has been linked to lung cancer.
"What happens in drought conditions is the aquifers are getting lower and lower and exposing more bedrock and more uranium," said James Connell of A1 Radon in Olathe, Kansas. "Cracks in the ground and cracks in people's foundations allow those radon gases to come up."
Jeanne Case, who lives just outside Portland, Oregon, recently tested for radon at her home and it showed levels three times the safe limit. "It never even occurred to me ... I was so convinced we didn't have it," Case told NBC Portland affiliate KGW-TV.
Mineral crystals form the colors, mottling and striations that make granite an attractive choice for countertops, but those crystals can contain radioactive elements like uranium. Over time, uranium breaks down into a gas called radon. Radon is radioactive and you can't detect it by sight, smell or taste, which leaves consumers wondering about the safety of granite countertops.