Invisible gas linked to lung cancer found in Alaska

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska - An invisible gas, created by minerals in the earth, has been linked to lung cancer.

A colorless, odorless gas has been known to infiltrate homes, causing adverse effects on the human body. The gas is called radon. But what is Radon exactly? University of Alaska Fairbanks's Energy Specialist Art Nash explained.

"Radon is a radioactive gas that is a by-product of Uranium under the soil," Nash said.

A gas from uranium falling apart as it decays.

"It's a wimpy gas, but it's fairly pervasive. The only reason why humans have a real concern for it is because it makes its way up through various voids in the floors and avenues of the dirt and into people's homes," he said.

Nash says when it gets into homes at higher concentrations for elongated periods of time, it can get lodged in the delicate tissues of your inner lungs and possibly cause lung cancer. In fact, next to smoking radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer according to the Environmental protection agency.

Geologist Jennifer Athey is with Alaska's Department of Natural resources geological and geophysical surveys. When asked if radon effects specific areas, she said, "Radon is a lot of the rocks and soils in Alaska, and if you look at the maps produced by the Alaska geophysical survey it's pretty ubiquitous throughout the whole state."

Nash says the only way to know if you have a radon problem is to test.

"Concentration level could be largely dependent on how people build their homes, and secondly, how they operate their homes as far as ventilation and air movement," he said.

There are several options to choose from when testing your home. Short term tests give you a snap shot of the radon levels. Whereas the long term tests give you a number based on results over time.

"I've heard lots of people, just in the Fairbanks area, coming up to us and requesting kits and saying 'you know my aunt never smoked and she ending up having lung cancer, and so I really want to test my house,'" he said.

Public health workers estimate that 20,000 Americans will die of lung cancer, specifically related to radon. However, when looking at fatalities surrounding lung cancer, they often look at background, environmental and behavioral factors such as smoking.