Homeowners may not be aware of it but there is a potential danger that could be seeping into their homes each day. It’s called radon.

It is an “odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that occurs from the breakdown of uranium in the ground and it is the leading cause of lung cancer in Pennsylvania,” according to information from Elizabeth Rementer, press secretary, Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Communications.

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) says, “Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking. If you smoke and live in a home with high radon levels, you increase your risk of developing lung cancer. Having your home tested is the only effective way to determine whether you and your family are at risk of high radon exposure.”

This gas “enters homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings as a result, high levels of radon tend to be found in basements, but the gas can be found anywhere in the home.

“Because of our geology, Pennsylvania is very prone to high radon levels. Nearly every county in the commonwealth has locations of high radon levels, putting Pennsylvanians at risk of exposure,” according to Rementer’s email.

So what about Jefferson, Clarion, Clearfield and Elk counties in comparison to the rest of the state. Is there low or high levels of radon found here?

“The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 4 picocuries of radon per liter (pCi/L) of air as an Action Level. Jefferson, Clearfield, Elk, and Claron have 50-60 percent of basement readings above the EPA guideline of 4 pCi/L.” Across the state, “there are 28 counties with lower percentages of basement readings below 4 pCi/L, 22 counties with similar percent of readings above 4 pCi/L (like the four mentioned), and 13 counties with percent of basement readings greater than the four counties mentioned,” according to the Rementer.

Testing for radonRementer said, “Additionally, radon is not easy for homeowners to detect because it doesn’t present itself to our senses. A radon test is a great way to protect yourself and your family. Fortunately, testing your home for radon is as simple as opening a can, and inexpensive do-it-yourself tests are available at hardware and home stores. Testing is easy and inexpensive and could save your life.”

One such do-it-yourself test is a round canister with charcoal. Testing it is noted on the instructional video on DEP/Radon Division website is best done during the winter when the home is more closed up. A workbench in the basement about three or four feet above the ground that isn’t near any drafts is an ideal location to place the test canister. It will usually need to remain there for two to four or two to seven days, depending on the test kit manufacturer’s directions.

The U.S. EPA gets a little more detailed in where to conduct the test. It only suggests the basement if the basement is being used regularly. In it’s guidelines for homeowners, the EPA says, “The test kit should be placed in the lowest lived-in level of the home (for example, the basement if it is frequently used, otherwise the first floor). It should be put in a room that is used regularly (like a living room, playroom, den, or bedroom) but not your kitchen or bathroom. Place the kit at least 20 inches above the floor in a location where it won’t be disturbed – away from drafts, high heat, high humidity, and exterior walls.”

Once the time has passed, the lid should be placed back on the canister, paperwork filled out and everything placed in the mail as soon as possible and sent to the lab specified on the package for analysis. In two to three weeks the results of the test should arrive. Homeowners with questions about the test results can contact the Radon Division at 800-237-2366.

If doing it yourself, it is recommended that the testing be done in the basement or if there is no basement do the test on the ground floor of the home. These are the locations that will have the highest levels of radon if any is present.

Positive for radon

So what happens if you test for radon and find the higher levels?

First do a confirmation test to verify the results. In other words do the test a second time. If the results are the same then the homeowner should take steps to reduce the levels of radon.

Correcting radon levelsCertified radon mitigation contractors can come to a home and provide ideas and estimates for installing a radon reduction system, according to the DEP’s Radon Division.

Usually installation of such systems take less than a day. Once the system has been up and running for about 24 hours, then a radon test (charcoal canister) should be done again to make sure the system is working and the levels are below the 4 pCi/L. Basically the reduction system uses a fan and PVC pipes to suck the radon gas out from beneath the house and eventually disperses it into the air where it disapates harmlessly. If a home has a radon reduction system, the homeowner need only do a charcoal canister test for radon once every two years. This test should also be done during the winter.

Who to call?All radon testers, mitigators, and laboratories in Pennsylvania must be certified by the DEP, which provides a public list of certified radon service providers. People can also obtain a hard copy or verify a company’s certification by calling DEP at 800-23RADON (800-237-2366).

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