Radon is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless radioactive gas that occurs naturally in most rocks and soil. It is produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water. Radon is harmlessly dispersed in outdoor air, but when trapped in buildings can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially at elevated levels. It typically enters a home the same way air and other soil gases enter the home, through cracks in the foundation, floors or walls, hollow-block walls, and openings around pipes, sump pumps, and floor drains. It can also be present in some construction materials and in water from underground sources including private wells.
How does exposure to radon increase your risk of developing lung cancer? As you breather, radon enters your lungs and releases small bursts of energy and particles that can damage lung tissue. Lung cancer may not occur for many years after exposure to radon. Not everyone will develop lung cancer, but your risk of developing it increases as the level of radon and the time you are exposed increases. When exposure to radon is combined with smoking or second-hand smoke, the risk may increase dramatically. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that in the United States, as many as 20,000 lung cancer deaths each year may be caused by radon.
Radon is linked to geography. Sheared fault zones in the Appalachian region of the Eastern United States have the potential for creating anomalously high amounts of indoor radon. These fault zones, many of which have uranium occurences, are usually characterized by high gamma radioactivity. In New Jersey, these is a particularly uranium-rich geological formation which stretches from Pennsylvania through New Jersey. Testing of homes built along this geological formation has revealed high indoor levels of radon gas. Because of the uncertainties in identifying areas of high radon and the difficulties in predicting the location of individual homes with elevated levels of radon, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recognizes radon as a statewide health issue and recommends that all homes in the state be tested for radon. If levels are elevated, residents are urged to considered remediation.