BLOG: Have You Tested Your Home for Radon?

By: John Quigley, Secretary of Environmental Protection

February 01, 2016

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) spends a lot of time educating Pennsylvania citizens about the dangers of radon. More than 20,000 people across the U.S. die each year from lung cancer caused by radon. In fact, radon is the nation’s leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

Watch Secretary Quigley urge Pennsylvanians to test for radon in this public service announcement:

How Radon Was Discovered in Pennsylvania

We first discovered radon in Pennsylvania in the 1980s when a worker at the Limerick Nuclear Power Plant in Montgomery County kept setting off the radiation alarms when he went to work.  Tests of his home revealed extremely high levels of radon.  The discovery provided the first real evidence that radon could seep into homes at levels high enough to cause a health threat.  Since then, the Department of Environmental Protection has been at the forefront of researching and studying this public health threat.

Radon’s Prevalence in Pennsylvania

Radon is found everywhere in Pennsylvania, and in all 67 counties.  Chalk it up to our geology.  Radon comes from the breakdown of trace amounts of uranium in soil and rocks.  When you breathe in the radioactive particles emitted from radon gas when it decays, they can settle in your lungs, and over time – can potentially cause lung cancer.

radon

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that you install a radon mitigation system in  your home if your radon level is 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or higher.  About 40 percent of Pennsylvania homes measured have radon levels greater than the EPA guideline of 4 pCi/L.  And those are only the ones that have been tested!

The highest radon level ever recorded in the U.S. was found in late 2014 in Lehigh County.  The home’s radon level was measured at 3,750 pCi/L, more than 900 times EPA’s action level.  The levels were so high that DEP urged the residents to find another place to live until the radon could be reduced to safe levels.  That family did temporarily move out of their home, and promptly had a radon mitigation system installed that reduced their home to below 4 pCi/L.

What’s My Risk

When it comes to radon, there are three primary factors that can increase your risk of developing lung cancer: the concentration of radon in your home, the length of time you’re exposed to that concentration, and being a smoker. Smokers are about six times more likely to develop radon-induced lung cancer than non-smokers.

And consider this: it’s well known that children are more susceptible to environmental pollution than adults.  Families with young children should test their homes.

Pennsylvania has a large population of older residents who have lived in their homes for decades.  The longer you’re exposed to elevated levels of radon, the greater your risk of developing lung cancer.  Seniors should test their homes.

So how can you reduce your risk of lung cancer from radon? First and foremost, if you’re a smoker, stop.  Test your home for radon and, if elevated levels are found, have your home mitigated to reduce the radon level. These steps can significantly reduce the risks from radon exposure and lung cancer.

Radon Testing

You and your family are most likely to get the greatest exposure to radon at home. The only way to know the radon level in your home is to test it. Testing is easy and inexpensive. You can buy a simple, do-it-yourself radon test kit at most hardware and home stores for around $20.

All radon laboratories, testing and mitigation firms doing business in Pennsylvania must be certified by DEP.  Make sure you do business with only PA-certified testing laboratories and/or mitigation companies.  Lists are available online at www.dep.pa.gov/radon.

You Can Fix a Radon Problem

If radon levels are high in your home, you can reduce them by installing a radon mitigation system (PDF). The most common type of system uses an arrangement of plastic pipes and a fan to vent the radon gas to the outside air. The typical cost of a radon mitigation system ranges from $700 to $1,200.

Consider Radon Resistant Construction

If you’re building a new home, consider building with radon resistant new construction techniques. These techniques can be effective in preventing radon entry, and installing these features at the time of construction is easier and less expensive than retrofitting an existing home.  For information, call DEP’s radon hotline at 800-23-RADON.

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