EPA: Radon from homes deadly, a leading cause of lung cancer

In our special report -- a hidden home danger. Most homes are equipped with smoke detectors and likely carbon monoxide detectors. 

But do you have something that checks the radon levels in your home? If the answer is no, it might be something you want to re-consider.

The EPA says radon from homes is one of the leading causes of lung cancer.  

When Michelle Hirschfield and her family recently found their new home, her realtor advised them to get a radon test.

"I remember saying are you sure we need that,” she said.

Hirschfield says she had never considered the test before, but the results surprised and worried her. 

"Sure enough, we had a higher level than we should have,” she said.

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that seeps into a home’s foundation. 

Once inside, the gas builds up and can become hazardous to breathe in. The effects can be deadly.

It's the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, claiming 21,000 lives each year. 

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says 41 percent of homes tested in the state showed dangerously high levels. But the problem can be easily fixed by installing a mitigation system.

Still, Hirschfield needed more. 

“I just needed to have a way of knowing that my mitigation system was working,” she said.

Her system was installed in the basement where her children have their art room.

“I thought, there must be some way to measure this in your home, so I found this,” she said.

"Airthings" is one of many radon detectors on the market and it monitors radon levels in your home. It continuously checks radon readings and alerts you if numbers get too high.

Oyvind Birkenes is the company CEO.

"It's a very easy to use product. You just buy it, you have a battery operated, you have an app on the phone, it will notify you if there is something you should do,” Birkenes said.

For Hirschfield, the radon detector is peace of mind. She feels better knowing when her children run downstairs to create their art. She can occasionally take a look at her radon readings and not have to worry about her family’s health.

"I like that daily reminder that yup I’m still working on your behalf in the background,” she said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are things you can do to protect yourself from radon.

First, increase air flow in your home by opening windows and vents when you can.

Also, make sure to seal any cracks in floors and walls.

And finally -- if you're still concerned, get your home tested and contact a radon mitigation company.