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The Silent Killer in Your Home That Could Cause Lung Cancer
Higher radon levels reported in many homes in the Clarion County area could be increasing residents’ risk of developing lung cancer.
Radon, an odorless, colorless, radioactive gas that comes from the break down of uranium in the ground, can enter homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings. Though higher levels tend to be found in basements, the gas can spread through homes easily.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the harmful health effects of radon can occur when radon enters and attaches to the surface of a person’s lungs and emits radioactive particles that can further impact the lungs, causing lung cancer.
The U.S. Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today, with only smoking causing more lung cancer deaths.
According to Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set 4 picocuries of radon per liter (pCi/L) of air as an Action Level. If your radon level is higher than this, EPA, DEP, and the U.S. Surgeon General recommend having a radon mitigation system professionally installed to lower it.
According to the DEP’s test data, the average result of 692 tests in basements in the 16214 zip code was 8.7 pCi/L, which is more than double the Action Level, and the highest result tested was far higher, at 113 pCi/L. In the 16254 zip code, 232 tests in basements found an average result of 7.7 pCi/L, and the maximum result discovered was a staggering 257.4 pCi/L. Further to the south, in the 16242 zip code, the average result of 143 basements tested was 8.9 pCi/L, and the maximum level found was 259.0 pCi/L.
These results are not isolated in Clarion County. 53% of homes tested in Armstrong County tested at or above the Action Level, as well as 42% of the homes in Forest County, 49% of the homes in Venango County, 51% of the homes in Butler County, and 58% of the homes in Jefferson County.
To put the risk in perspective, according to the DEP at the Action Level of 4 pCi/L, the risk of cancer from long-term exposure is about 7/1000 for nonsmokers, which is about the same rate at which people are at risk of dying in a car crash, and about 62/1000 for smokers, which is about five times the risk of dying in a car crash.
At 8 pCi/L, that risk jumps to 15/1000 for nonsmokers and 120/1000 for smokers. At the highest risk level calculated by the DEP, for 20 pCi/L, the risk of cancer from long-term exposure is about 36/1000 for nonsmokers, and 260/1000 for smokers.
This year, the EPA has designated January as Radon Action Month, and the DEP is also encouraging Pennsylvanian residents to start off the new year by conducting a test of their homes for radon.
According to the DEP, winter is a good time to test because doors and windows are closed, providing more accurate results. Radon testing is not difficult. Homeowners can test their homes themselves or hire a qualified radon test company.
All radon testers, mitigators, and laboratories in Pennsylvania must be certified by 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).
Reliable testing devices are available from qualified radon testing companies, as well as by phone or mail-order, and can be purchased in hardware stores and other retail outlets, as well.
The DEP will also send free follow-up test kits to any Pennsylvania resident who has tested their home and discovered results higher than 100 pCi/L or who has installed an active mitigation system in the past year.
With the invisibility of radon and the elevated levels so often found in our area, the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon exposure is by testing your home. The EPA and U.S. Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon.
In the case of elevated radon levels, a variety of methods can be used to reduce even the highest levels – ranging from sealing cracks in floors and walls to soil suction systems that utilize pipes and fans. A radon reduction system can be in an affordable price range, generally in a similar range with other common home improvements.
More information, as well as ways to reduce radon in your home available in the DEP’s “Pennsylvania Consumer’s Guide to Radon Reduction”, is available online at www.dep.pa.gov.
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