Government pushes for radon testing

    Pennsylvania’s governor has designated January as “radon action month.” Eastern Pennsylvania has a reputation as a radon hot-spot. But the EPA says most homeowners don’t test for the toxin.

    Pennsylvania’s governor has designated January as “radon action month.” Eastern Pennsylvania has a reputation as a radon hot-spot. But the EPA says most homeowners don’t test for the toxin.
    (Photo: EPA. Red areas indicate highest potential for elevated indoor radon levels)

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    Geological uranium deposits crisscross the United States and emit radioactive radon that can seep up through the earth and collect in people’s homes. In the 1980s, geologists identified the Reading Prong — a high-uranium formation in eastern Pennsylvania that caused record-breaking home radon levels.

    Mike Pyles is the program manager for Pennsylvania’s radon division.

    EPA national map of radon zones
    EPA national map of radon zones. Click to enlarge.
    Pyles: Pennsylvania’s considered to be one of the highest states as far as having a radon problem in residential homes. We estimate about 40 percent of the homes would have a radon level above the EPA guidance of 4 pico curies per liter.

    Pyles says it’s not uncommon to find homes with levels above 100 pico curies per liter. The EPA recommends a level of four.

    Bill Brodhead is the president of WPB Enterprises, which installs radon ventilation systems, and he teaches a radon class at Rutgers.

    Brodhead:
    Most of those measurements are made in the basement and the radon levels on the first floor are typically one half to one quarter of the basement readings in the wintertime. So when you have very high readings in the basement, then you’re being exposed in your bedrooms.

    Brodhead says ventilation systems can usually reduce levels to below EPA’s limits.

    Lew Felleisen is an engineer at the EPA. He says it’s hard to predict where there’s elevated radon.

    Felleisen: You can have two houses next to each other, one would have high radon, one would have low radon. So you really don’t know, not unless you test.

    The EPA is urging homeowners to get their houses tested. Long-term exposure to radon is second only to smoking as a cause of lung cancer. During winter, when windows are doors are shut tight, that exposure can go up.

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