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New tech protects homes from invisible radon threat

You don’t have to smoke to get lung cancer. If you’re unlucky and don’t take precautions, all you have to do is breathe the air in your home.

Radon — a colorless and odorless radioactive gas found in soil — causes more than 21,000 deaths from lung cancer every year in the U.S. — more than carbon monoxide and house fires combined. Released from rock, soil and water, the uranium-derived gas can reach dangerous levels in even the best-built homes.

“All houses tend to draw soil gas out of the ground to replace air that escapes out of the top whenever the house is warmer than the outside, which is almost every night year-round,” says Bill Brodhead, president of WPB Enterprises, a radon mitigation company in Pennsylvania.

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“The soil gas naturally contains radon, and often in very high concentrations. When radon decays, it changes to solid particles that cling to dust, water molecules or directly to your lung tissue.”

These particles decay and send off alpha particles that damage the lung tissue and increase the risk of getting lung cancer, which is the leading cancer killer in the U.S. and has one of the lowest five–year survival rates of all cancers.

But you don’t have to put up with high levels of radon in your home. Radon detectors have been around for years, but they’re basically charcoal canisters that last for only a few days and have to be sent to a lab for analysis. Since radon levels fluctuate daily, these tests aren’t always reliable.

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But now a Norway–based company, Airthings, has created the Airthings Wave that uses digital sensors and smart home technology to measure radon levels over a long period of time.

“[Charcoal] is the traditional way,” Airthings CEO Øyvind Birkenes told Fox News. “We are going electronically, which enables you to monitor 24/7 over long periods of time — many, many years. And that’s important, because radon gas fluctuates significantly over time. Over a day, it’s amazing how much it changes.”

The Wave, a small, easy-to-install white disc that looks like a smoke detector, has an indicator light that can turn green (nothing to worry about), yellow (warning) or red (danger). Users can also check their radon levels or receive warning notifications through an app that records short- and long-term data. If the sensor detects dangerous levels of radon for longer than 48 hours, it notifies the user and recommends what to do next. The sensor also gives audio alerts.

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If high levels of radon are detected, experts recommend getting in touch immediately with a contractor who can implement a radon reduction system that will reduce radon levels by up to 99 percent. It will set you back around $800-$1,200 — or more if the home has crawl spaces, no gravel under the slab or a completely finished lower level.

“Each state radon or radiation department should have a list of qualified contractors,” Brodhead said. “It is usually best to have a local qualified contractor do the work to get better service.”

Brodhead recommends hiring a contractor who visits your home before submitting an estimate. He also advises getting more than one estimate and checking with references.