Dr. Nollah says test your home for radon

Amy Charles

January is Radon Action Month and Pikeville Medical Center (PMC) would like to educate the public about radon and its dangers in high levels.


Radon is an invisible, odorless gas released from the normal decay of the elements uranium, thorium and radium. These elements are found in the rock and soil of the earth's crust. This radioactive gas seeps up through the ground and is released into the air.


"When individuals inhale the radiation particles it damages the lung lining. When the damage occurs, you have genetic mutations which result in lung cancer," explained Dr. Blessing Nollah, PMC Medical Oncologist/Hematologist. "So people who inhale high levels of radon are at a greater risk of lung cancer."


Radon is present in nearly all air and is breathed in daily by everyone, usually at very low levels. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends taking action to reduce radon in homes that have a radon level at or above 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air.


"Your main risk of radon is actually indoors when it is seeping through the cracks of walls and the basement. When there is not proper ventilation, radon levels can accumulate," explained Dr. Nollah. "You could have it in your house for many years and not even know because it is an odorless gas."


Radon gas becomes a problem when it accumulates at high levels in areas that aren't well ventilated, such as underground mines or older homes built over ground containing pockets of these elements. Radon can enter homes through cracks in floors, walls, or foundations, and collect indoors. Basement and first floors typically have the highest radon levels because of their closeness to the ground.


"We recommend anyone with an older home to have radon testing, but also people with new homes should have radon testing too," Dr. Nollah stated.


Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of lung cancer. Radon exposure is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. Scientists estimate that 15,000 to 22,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year are related to radon.


"The incidents of cancer is higher in people that smoke and have radon exposure," Dr. Nollah said.


About 1 in 15 U.S. homes is estimated to have radon levels at or above the EPA action level of 4 pCi/L. Scientists estimate that lung cancer deaths could be reduced by 2 to 4 percent, or about 5,000 deaths, by lowering radon levels in homes exceeding the EPA's action level.


"Households with high levels of radon put people at an increased risk of lung cancer," Dr. Nollah explained. "The best way to figure out if your house has high levels, is to have radon testing."


Testing is the only way to know if a person's home has high levels of radon. Because of Kentucky's high levels of radon and high instances of lung cancer, there are many companies that specialize in residential radon removal. A quick internet search will give you listings of radon mitigation services in the area.


"The EPA has information about different kits you can order to test for radon. They usually stay in your house for a few days and then a laboratory analyzes it to see if the radon levels are above the EPA guidelines."


Short-term detectors measure radon levels for 2 days to 90 days, depending on the device. Long-term tests determine the average concentration for more than 90 days. Because radon levels can vary from day to day and month to month, a long-term test is a better indicator of the average radon level. A state or local radon official can explain the differences between testing devices and recommend the most appropriate test for a person's needs and conditions.


"If you are found to have high levels of radon above the EPA guidelines radon mitigation is recommended," said Dr. Nollah. "You don't necessarily have to move out of your house, you are able to mitigate the radon while you are still living on your property."


The Kentucky Radon Program is involved in educational awareness programs for citizens throughout the commonwealth, responding to phone and email inquiries.


It provides free radon test kits to Kentucky residents. Call 502-564-4856 to request yours or go to http://chfs.ky.gov/dph/info/phps/radongas.htm for more information.