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Protecting Your Little One: Understanding the Risks of Radon Exposure During Pregnancy or While Expecting

Expectant parents have a million things on their minds, and one pressing concern is making sure they bring their new bundle of joy into a home and nursery that is safe. This process of “baby proofing” the home ensures that a new baby has a safe and healthy place to sleep, play, and eat. 

To start, parents should scan areas of their home and their baby’s nursery for electrical outlets, sharp edges, and stairs to eliminate any potential hazards. For instance, they should install child-proof locks on cupboard doors to block access to medicines and chemicals, place gates in front of steep stairways, and remove crib side lamps with cords that can become wound around a curious child’s neck. 

However, these are only the obvious hazards. One of the greatest dangers to young children is actually invisible.

Radon gas in the home

Every home has some exposure to radon — a known carcinogenic gas — but the degrees of exposure vary widely from home to home. Radon seeps into homes from the soil through cracks in the foundation, suspended floors, construction joints, gaps in basement walls, sump holes, plumbing penetrations, and even small holes.

Radon is produced when the uranium in soil and rocks naturally decays. When people inhale radon gas, those particles become lodged in the lungs, causing damage to internal tissue that can eventually lead to cancer. And because radon is colorless, odorless, and tasteless, the only way to detect it and ensure the health and safety of loved ones is through accurate testing and analysis.

The dangers of radon to infants and their families

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking. Currently, this radioactive gas is responsible for at least 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the US each year.

What’s more, it appears that children are more vulnerable to radon than adults. In fact, doctors estimate that children are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than adults with the same level of exposure. 

Young children’s heightened sensitivity to radon gas may spring from a number of causes. First, their respiratory rates are twice as high, although their lungs are much smaller than those of adults. Researchers also believe young babies and toddlers have higher exposure rates because they enjoy exploring the world by putting things in their mouths. Finally, they hypothesize that a baby crawling on the floor is exposed to higher radon levels than an adult standing in the same room due to the dispersion of the toxic gas in the air, making standing a slightly safer option for adults.

“If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, you should test the radon levels in your home,” urges Insoo Park, founder and CEO of Ecosense. “At one time, this was a job only professionals could manage with expensive laboratory equipment and higher costs for the homeowners. Today, however, parents can easily test the radon levels in their child’s nursery with affordable and accurate long-term monitoring devices.”

Continuous monitoring of radon levels helps protect infants from exposure

In years past, reliable radon testing could only be conducted by contacting a certified professional to come out and test for a couple of days, although this process was unable to track variable radon concentrations across a span of hours, days, weeks, or even months. Since radon levels change continuously, even within a single day, and are affected by weather or seasonal changes, short-term testing may not be adequate to assess radon risk accurately. Thankfully, nowadays, there are radon monitoring products readily available in the marketplace, making it convenient for parents to monitor fluctuations in radon levels inside their homes easily. Examples include EcoBlu and EcoQube, which provide continuous monitoring, enabling homeowners to stay aware of potential radon issues and take timely actions to safeguard their families’ health. 

When the impact of radon exposure can go unnoticed for many years, it can affect children’s bodies at the cellular level, as well as adults. Additionally, radon exposure has been linked to more immediate health effects, such as asthma, especially in children and individuals with respiratory sensitivities. Lung cancer may take years or decades to develop, even though exposure often starts during childhood. Symptoms of radon poisoning include difficulty breathing, coughing, pain or tightness in the chest, and trouble swallowing. However, once these symptoms arise, a late-stage cancer diagnosis is often not far behind. 

“Preparing for your new baby’s arrival must include a plan that keeps him or her safe from radon gas,” says Park. “By implementing accurate and ongoing testing before your newborn’s arrival, you can achieve peace of mind and focus all your attention on caring for your growing family. The sooner you get started, the better.”