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10/23 Column: Keep radon exposure at bay by testing your home

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

10:07 AM EDT, October 23, 2013

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Do you know the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers?

Did you guess radon?

We didn't either.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared this week, October 21-27, as National Radon Action Week.

Like many of you, we were unaware that the American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control, and National Cancer Institute all agree that radon is a national health problem and encourage radon testing during the October awareness drive.

You might be asking, "What exactly is radon?"

Simply put, radon is a naturally occurring, invisible and odorless radioactive gas that can be found inside or outside the home.

Here's the kicker: one in 15 American homes contain high levels of radon. As per the Virginia Health Department, radon gas migrates into homes and other buildings through cracks and holes in floors, floor drains, cinder block walls, and foundations.

A recent study by Harvard University ranks radon as America's #1 in-home hazard, which caused more fatalities last year than carbon monoxide, fires, and handguns combined.

That's a startling statistic.

According to the EPA, radon problems have been detected in homes in every county of the U.S., including our coverage area - New Kent County, King & Queen, and King William counties.

Radon exposure is measured in "picoCuries per liter," or pCi/L.

To give you an idea of how our local areas measure up, we must remember that the average outdoor air concentration in the U.S. is about 0.4 pCi/L, and the average radon concentration inside U.S. homes is 1.3 pCi/L.

As reported by Air Chek, Inc., a radon informational site, New Kent, King & Queen, and King William have the exact same radon readings.

Each county is divided by its radon levels, which are:

•Not classified (insufficient data) - 69 percent

•4 pCi/L and above - 11 percent

•2 to 3.9 pCi/L - 21 percent

Here's another surprising fact: The risk of lung cancer rises 16 percent per 2.7 pCi/L increase in radon exposure.

The American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control, and National Cancer Institute is right - radon is a national health problem, and we too are encouraging residents to consider radon testing.

If your home hasn't been tested for radon in the past two years, the EPA and Surgeon General urge you to take action.

Don't know where to start? We advise you to contact Ryan Paris, Virginia Department of Health (Radiological Health) at 804-864-8161 or Ryan.Paris@vdh.virginia.gov for information on test kits or qualified radon testers.

Don't think you can afford testing and necessary repairs?

A federal commitment was made by the EPA, the General Services Administration, and the departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veteran Affairs that focuses efforts on radon reduction and mitigation in homes, especially those of low-income families.

Although radon testing isn't a federal requirement, we hope that you will consider testing your home.

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.