Scientists are warning those affected by the Southcentral Alaska earthquake to retest their homes for radon, an odorless gas linked to cancer.
Radon is what state energy specialist Art Nash at the University of Alaska Fairbanks calls a “wimpy gas," meaning it doesn’t cause symptoms and can’t be seen, smelled or tasted. It is, however, radioactive — it forms when uranium underground decays, and Nash said that can pose health risks for people who breathe it in over long periods of time. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, he said.
Under normal circumstances, Nash recommends homeowners test for radon every five years, but the earthquake presents a new danger, he said. When the ground is disturbed, whether it’s through an earthquake, a sinkhole or construction, that can create fissures in the earth that allow radon to escape into the air, he said. Since there’s no way of knowing where the fissures have formed, Nash recommends every homeowner affected by the earthquake retest their homes.
The danger radon poses isn’t immediately visible, and sometimes the effects aren’t noticeable until years later, he said. Instead, it’s chronic exposure homeowners have to watch out for.
“While it’s certainly something to be concerned about and kick into action, it’s not the kind of thing to leave your home (over),” Nash said.
Short-term radon testing kits, which usually consist of containers of absorbent charcoal, can be found online and at building supply stores, he said. The homeowner should place the test in the lowest level of the house for two or three days. If levels are elevated, the EPA recommends hiring a radon mitigation contractor to address the problem.