January is Radon Awareness Month and any conversation about the invisible gas is likely to move to the issue of lung cancer quickly. 

"Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States," said Montana State Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Paul Tschida.  "Of course, smoking is number one. There's about 20,000 deaths per year in the United States attributable to lung cancer. In Montana, the estimate is that there's about 123 deaths per year due to lung cancer, and it's a preventable disease."

Radon is a radioactive gas that attaches to dust particles and is then inhaled into the lungs where it damages DNA. Radon is measured by pico-curies and cities like Missoula have a much higher level than the national 1.3 pico-curie average.

"In Missoula, the average level is seven pico-curies per liter, and the action level is set by the EPA and it's four pico-curies per liter," Tschida  said. "So, actually 53% of the tests that have been done in Missoula county have come in above the 4 pico-curies level."

Missoula isn't the only Montana county with a radon problem either, 48 percent of all of the tests performed in the state resulted in a pico-curie rating over four, making most of the state in the highest risk rating (level 1) for radon.

Radon test kits are available at the Missoula City-County Health Department for just seven dollars. For more information call them at 258-4755.

Paul Tschida: