PLEASANT HILL, Iowa -- Radon has gotten more attention over the past few years, but many people still don't know if they have it in their homes.
Gail Orcutt had no idea something in her home was making her sick.
"It was the spring of 2010. I'd been retired from teaching for almost two years, and I had a cough and wheeze,” said Orcutt. "It was lung cancer, which really shocked us because I have never smoked and my husband doesn't smoke."
While Orcutt was recovering from her lung removal surgery, she learned what likely caused her cancer.
"Smoking is the number one cause of cancer. Radon is the second leading cause of cancer. And so if you have someone who hasn't smoked a cigarette a day in their life and they still end up with lung cancer, then we look to radon to be the likely cause," said John Stoddard Cancer Center Oncology Outreach Coordinator Gina Mandernach.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, tasteless radioactive gas that is naturally found in soil. As the uranium breaks down, it gives off a gas called radon. It can get into homes through cracks in the foundation and sump pumps, possibly leading to high concentrations in homes.
Mandernach said, "Anyone can have radon in their home. It doesn't matter if you have a new home, old home, even if you compare with your neighbors, your neighbors might have high radon levels, your home might not."
This is why Mandernach said homes should be tested every two years, even if they have already been mitigated. Test kits can be found at area health departments and hardware stores. Blank Children Hospital's Safety Store sells kits for $8.
"You end up hanging this on this little hanger for three to seven days. And so when this test is done, you fill out the date and time you finish, and they make it really easy. You just end up peeling off this little tab and it seals and it's already postage paid. You just pop it in the mail," explained Mandernach.
The Orcutts tested their home right after Gail’s surgery and found a high level. They had a mitigation system installed that cost about $1,200.
“It's cancer prevention. You don't have to change your diet. You don't have to change your lifestyle at all. You don't have to exercise. Test. Test and mitigate," said Orcutt.
The Iowa Department of Public Health has a list of radon mitigation specialists throughout the state on its website.