Daily News: Disease

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer

Sentinel, The (Carlisle, PA)

10-22-13

Oct. 22--Cumberland County is rated as having the highest potential for predicted average indoor radon screening levels, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Cumberland County is not alone in that rating.

A large number of counties in Pennsylvania are also rated as red zones, according to a map on the EPA's website which shows a breakdown of screening levels across the country. A red zone is defined as having a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than four picocuries per liter, the site said. Other classifications are orange and yellow zones, with yellow having the lowest potential for radon levels.

While January is the official month dedicated to radon awareness, the third full week in October has been dubbed National Radon Action Week by the EPA.

Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas, said Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The gas is a byproduct of uranium.

"The reason that there is a significant amount of radon in the state of Pennsylvania is because we have very uranium-rich soil," she said. "Radon is an atomic-sized gas that can fit through most well-made, well-sealed basements out there. ... Radon is completely depended on the geology beneath the foundation of your home."

Witman said the only way to find out about these levels is to do a test, because it can vary even within a neighborhood. She said the department has had neighbors do tests and one house can have an incredibly high level and the other can have a low one.

"It varies significantly," Witman said. "There's no rhyme or reason to it. ... There's absolutely no way of knowing unless you do a test. You should never discount the potential for having radon because of (any) factors related to the condition or type of home that you have."

Officials are especially concerned about radon levels because the gas has been listed as the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, killing 21,000 people last year, Witman said. She said it's important not to ignore the issue, because people can not notice the damage immediately -- it causes harm over time.

Levels

The department recommends that anyone who is not aware of the levels in their home purchase a test at a hardware store and find out the number. If the number is above four, Witman said the homeowner should have a mitigator come in to develop a plan of action.

"We actually maintain a list of certified radon mitigation companies so that residents of Pennsylvania can go onto our website and see (what's available)," she said. "Typically that plan of action includes some type of air infiltration system."

Witman said the level of radon will determine whether a homeowner will need to have an active or passive system put it. The passive one consists of a set of PVC pipes that runs along the foundation, goes up through the walls and releases the radon at the roof level. A more active one would require a fan sucking the radon out and then venting it along the roof line, Witman said. The improvements vary in price, generally costing somewhere between $500 and $1,000 to install, she said.

The department recommends doing the test when people move in and also if any changes are made to the house that would affect how air would leave it, Witman said. She said the instructions are included with the test, but that it should be done in the lowest level of the house and placed at waist level in the middle of the testing area. Witman said everyone should know the level of radon in their house, because it could save them from getting lung cancer.

"It can significantly impact the health of your family in the long term," Witman said. "You definitely want to make sure that the air that you're breathing is clean and free of this radioactive gas."

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