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Does Radioactive Gas Lurk in your Home?

A tasteless, colorless, invisible killer can be detected in one in four houses in the Portland metro area. Its name is radon, a radioactive gas, and experts say the time to test for it is now.

“I don’t want to sit here 30 years later from now and learn my husband has cancer,” says Ella Vining, a mother of two from Southeast Portland.

Her husband’s office is in the basement of their home, and an initial radon test showed moderate levels of the radioactive gas in the basement.

Basements are usually the key site of exposure, because radon seeps in from the soil below.

A research team led by Portland State University geology professor Scott Burns, which tracks radon exposure levels statewide, updated its previous maps in January, based on a surge of new data derived from test results from 33,000 homes. The new data enabled the team to map out levels of radon by ZIP code across the state.

Protecting a Home From Silent Threat

Protecting a Home From Silent Threat

October 1, 2008

The cost of heating a home is expected to be higher than ever this winter, so this is a good time to batten down the hatches by caulking, sealing and weather-stripping every cold air entry point.

But homeowner beware: the quick fix could create a more serious set of problems, because the better you are at sealing icy air out, the more likely you are to keep potentially harmful gases like radon sealed in.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. “It is a classic carcinogen,” said Philip Jalbert, the radon team leader for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington. “We estimate that about 20,000 people die from radon-induced lung cancer every year,” making it the country’s second-highest cause of lung cancer, behind smoking.