Mother’s day post: Radon, lung cancer, and my mom

Every home in Washington should be tested for radon — especially if you live in Clark, Skamania, or northeastern Washington where radon levels are highest — because it’s deadly. If you don’t know what radon is, you’re not alone — most people I talk to have never heard of it.

Radon is a radioactive gas — a byproduct of Uranium buried in the earth beneath us — that enters homes by flowing up through the soil, seeping through cracks in the floor or walls, and gaps in an unfinished basement ceiling or sub floor. It enters the air of the living space and is breathed in by people living in the home. Once inhaled, it rapidly breaks down, emitting powerful radioactive particles that damage lung tissue, and can eventually lead to lung cancer.

That’s how 21,000 nonsmokers die every year from lung cancer.

That’s tragic, especially because it’s completely preventable. Unfortunately, radon doesn’t have much of a public health profile, and consequently, people — including my mom, Kristine — get lung cancer from exposure to radon.

My mom, Brother, and I, circa 1988

No one in our family had ever heard of radon. After my mom’s diagnosis, one of my parent’s neighbors let us borrow a radon monitor for testing. We found levels in the 20 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) range in the finished basement where my mom spent many hours at her elaborate quilting station. To put the radon levels in perspective, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends immediate action above 4 pCi/L.

After learning that radon caused my mom’s cancer, we had a radon reduction system installed on their home and it nearly eliminated the radon. The post radon-mitigation testing showed that the house went from having a deadly amount of radon to near zero (0.2pCi/L). And it only cost about $1,500.

In my mom’s case, it was too late. She died two months after her diagnosis, unexpectedly, while getting ready for a Christmas party.


Radon reduction system


Radon testing vancouver wa

Radon map – Washington state counties Red=High
Orange: Medium
Beige/Yellow: Low

Radon awareness

Education about radon is vital to preventing these completely preventable deaths. That starts with learning more about it (here, here, and here) and getting your home tested for radon. It’s also important to test public places, like schools and daycares where many of our kids spend significant amounts of time.

Awareness about radon can help save lives. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump’s environmental budget could eliminate funding for state radon awareness programs and lead to more deaths. It’s now more important than ever to educate people on the dangers of radon.

And so, in honor of Mother’s Day, get your home tested for radon and please share this blog to help raise radon awareness.

7 replies
  1. Marilyn Gilbert
    Marilyn Gilbert says:

    I’m so sorry about your mom. Your artice will hopefully help many families.
    Will, I was your kindergarten teacher at Hearthwood….if you’re that Will Graff. I see you are a home inspector, but you are also a wonderful writer.
    Marilyn Gilbert

  2. Wendee Dineen
    Wendee Dineen says:

    Your Mom was such a wonderful lady and dear friend. She will always be remembered for her love and kindness.
    Thank you for posting this about radon, the quiet killer.


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