Q. What is radon?
A. Radon is a naturally occurring gas produced by the breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water. You cannot see, smell or taste it. But when you breathe it, you increase your risk of lung cancer, especially if you also smoke.
Q. How does radon get into houses?
A. Air pressure inside your house is usually lower than pressure in the soil around the foundation. Because of this difference in pressure, your house acts like a vacuum, drawing in radon from the soil through foundation cracks and other openings.
Radon may also be present in well water and can be released into the air in your home when water is used for showering and other household uses.
In most cases, radon entering the home through water is a small risk compared with radon entering your home from the soil.
In a small number of homes, the building materials can give off radon, though building materials rarely cause radon problems by themselves.
Q. Does my house have radon?
A. The only way to find out is to test it. Maps can only give you a general idea of what areas are riskiest -- levels of radon can vary from house to house. You can buy radon test kits at most hardware stores for about $10.