What’s in Your Air?

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by Kay Morton

With colder temperatures outside families are closing up their homes and staying inside more. You now have a cozy environment that is perfect for testing Radon.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas, produced by the normal decay of uranium in rock and soil. As uranium decays, it produces radium, which in turn, releases radon gas. You cannot see, smell or taste radon. Once released, this gas rises to the surface of the soil and escapes into the atmosphere or into a building. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and can be as devastating as lung cancer caused by smoking tobacco.

Radon can be found in all fifty states and while radon problems may be more common in the upper piedmont and mountain counties of North Carolina, every home is prone to having some level of radon gas. This includes new and old homes, well-sealed and drafty homes, apartments, mobile homes, and homes with or without basements. Radon can seep into your home through dirt floors, cracks in concrete walls and slabs, floor drains, sump pumps, mortar joints, water, pipe penetration areas, joints and hollow block walls.

The only way to determine the radon level in your home is to conduct a radon test. The amount of radon in the air is measured in “picoCuries per liter of air,” or “pCi/L.”  If the radon level is greater than 4pCi/L, additional testing is recommended with possible mitigation to reduce the levels to 2-4 pCi/L. For this you will want to consultant a certified radon professional. Indoor radon levels can vary from home to home so you can’t rely on radon test results taken in the neighborhood, even ones next door, to estimate the radon level in your home.

When inhaled, radon particles tend to lodge in the lungs and emit radiation, which damages surrounding lung tissue. The health risk of excessive exposure to radon gas is an increased risk of lung cancer. Radon gas exposure has been estimated to contribute to between 15,000 and 22,000 lung cancer deaths each year. Smokers are at a high risk of developing radon-induced lung cancer.

During the month of January, The NC Radon Program will distribute approximately 7,000 free short-term radon kits statewide. Once the supply of free kits has been exhausted, the NC Radon Program will return to providing short-term radon test kits at a reduced cost of $5.34. In addition, there are low-cost “do-it-yourself” radon test kits you can purchase at local hardware and home improvement stores. The cost runs around $10 to $30 and includes lab and mailing fees.

North Carolina Cooperative Extension and Lee County Health Department are partnering with the NC Radon program to promote radon testing in Lee County. A community information session on radon will be held at the McSwain Center onThursday, January 22 at 6:30 p.m.. Phillip Gibson, NC Radon Program Coordinator with the NC Division of Health Service Regulation, Radiation Protection Section will be our presenter and a limited supply of short-term radon test kits will be distributed at the presentation.

The North Carolina Radon Program works with local communities to educates families and homeowners about radon gas, how to test for radon gas and how to lower the radon levels within a home. Lowering the radon levels in a home lowers the risk of lung cancer. For more information check out their website http://www.ncradon.org/ or contact me at Cooperative Extension, 919-775-5624 or Ashley Graham, Lee County Public Health at 919-718-4640. If you are interested in attending our community meeting, RSVP to Cooperative Extension in Lee County.

Susan Condlin is County Extension Director for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.