Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States after smoking. This odorless, colorless, tasteless gas is responsible for 20,000 deaths in this country every year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

While you may not see, smell or taste it, this silent killer may be lurking in your home, your office and your child’s school.

The gas is a by-product of the natural breakdown of radioactive uranium in the ground which seeps up into a building that is overhead.  Because rocks, soil and sometimes even groundwater can all contain uranium, exposure to radon is fairly common.

Radon gas decays into radioactive particles that get trapped in lungs as you breathe, according to the National Safety Council. Over time, exposure will damage lung tissue and lead to cancer.

There are ways to limit your exposure to radon. The first step is to test your home for radon. Kits can be bought at some hardware stores or by contacting the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources for assistance in finding qualified radon measurement providers in your area. The office offers a limited number of free radon testing kits on its website , too.

The amount of radon in the air is measured in picocuries. The EPA says the average indoor radon level is 1.3 picocuries per liter of air (pCi/L) while outdoor air has an average level of 0.4 pCi/L. If your test results read above 4 pCi/L, the EPA recommends taking steps to reduce the level of radon in your home.

Consider this: If your test reads at 4 pCi/L, your chances of getting lung cancer are about the same as the risk of dying in a car crash. If you smoke, those chances increase to about five times the risk of dying in a car crash.

How do you fix your home? Through the state environmental agency, identify a qualified contractor who will help mitigate the problem. On its website, the EPA offers information on the various techniques and processes used to reduce radon in your home’s air.   

The environmental agency believes that preventing radon from entering your home through a process of soil suction is the best way to reduce radon. Depending on the foundation of the home, radon below the house is vented through a pipe into the air above the house.

Other types of radon reduction methods include sealing cracks, using fans to blow air into the basement or installing a heat recovery ventilator. These techniques are not as effective as soil suction in reducing radon, according to the EPA.

Contrary to popular myth, the EPA says radon can be found all over the U.S. in all 50 states. Homes with radon can be made safer. Determining whether you have radon in your home is easy and inexpensive. Additionally, many home buyers now want to know about the presence of radon before buying a house and will test a prospective home’s air quality.