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Reducing Radon's Toll EPA states "There is no threshold level in which radon is safe.

Reducing Radon's Toll

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Many of us shake our heads when we hear of nonsmokers who develop lung cancer, and we wonder how they could have come down with such a brutal disease. But the leading cause, scientists tell us, is exposure to radioactive radon gas. According to the World Health Organization, 3 to 14 percent of lung cancer cases can be blamed on low- to medium-level exposure to radon in homes.

The WHO just recommended that countries set an action level for getting rid of radon that's more sensitive than the one established by the Environmental Protection Agency nearly two decades ago.

According to the EPA, if a radon test shows the level in your home to be 4 picocuries per liter or higher, you should retest and then take action to reduce the level. But even if a test shows 2 picocuries, the agency suggests that people consider taking action.

The WHO's new recommendation (which it stated in the European metric method at 100 Becquerel per cubic meter) is equivalent to 2.7 picocuries per liter, according to Tom Kelly, acting director of radiation and indoor air for the EPA. But he said the agency is not considering changing its recommended action level of 4, partly because the round number is easy for the public to remember.

"There is no threshold level in which radon is safe. . . . There's a lot of risk below 2.7; there's a lot of risk below four," Kelly said. The most important thing, he said, was to get people to take the risk seriously, test their homes, and then perform the relatively simple and inexpensive fixes needed to reduce their exposure.

"Radon is a terrible thing," Kelly said, adding that many incidences of lung cancer can be avoided.

He estimated that about 15 percent of homes in America would show high levels if they were tested.

Radon gas is produced by the decay of uranium in the soil. It has no color or odor and can enter homes through cracks in the floor or foundation walls, or through slab openings for sump pumps and plumbing.

You can buy a test kit at a hardware store for about $10. "These rugged little test kits still give you a very useful estimate," Kelly said. If it shows radon, you can follow up with more precise tests from professionals.

"Remember, 4 is not safe," Kelly said. He also said it's best to test in the cooler months, when the house is closed and humidity levels are low. Heat and humidity can affect readings, he said.

According to the EPA, the cost to hire a radon-mitigation contractor averages $1,200. You can download "The Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction" from http://www.epa.gov/radon.

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