Usually when we’re releasing information on radon, it’s during the dead of winter.
After all, January is National Radon Action Month and we like to highlight the dangers of this odorless, colorless and radioactive poisonous gas when houses are more likely to be sealed up to brace against the cold weather.
Monongalia County, like most of the West Virginia counties that border Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia, is in the red zone when it comes to radon. Zone 1 means that homes have the highest risk for radon, measured as 4 picoCuries per liter. A Curie is a unit of radioactivity equivalent to 1 gram of radium and “pico” means a trillionth.
Staff members at MCHD’s Environmental Health program have been certified by the National Radon Safety Board (NRSB) to visit your home and perform a radon test. The staff member will set up a piece of equipment in your home and activate it. It shuts off after 48 hours and the staff member will return to pick up the device and download the data. A report is created and is available to the homeowner by email or mail, or it can be picked up at MCHD.
So why are we talking about radon six months after it is usually noted as a health observance? Because as of July 1, a grant has made it possible for MCHD to perform the test for half of the usual cost of $125. So instead of $125, the test is $62.50.
And why should you have your home tested? Radioactive metals break down in rocks, soil and groundwater and then seep into your home in the form of radon gas. Exposure usually occurs primarily by inhaling air that comes through cracks and gaps in buildings and homes. Because radon comes naturally from the earth, exposure to small doses of the gas is constant.
Obviously breathing in poisonous gas is not good for you. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, after cigarette smoking. High levels of radon are even more dangerous to people who smoke than to non-smokers.
The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that all homes be tested for radon. About one in five homes in Monongalia County is found to have radon, noted MCHD Environmental Health registered sanitarian Joe Lawson, who performs many of the radon tests. That is compared to an overall rate of one in 15 homes in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
And even if your home previously passed a test, you should have it repeated every two years. Your neighbors could have high radon levels and you might not. In two years, the situation could be reversed.
If your home does test for high levels of radon, there is good news. A licensed radon mitigation contractor can install a system in your home that will reduce the amount of radon gas in the atmosphere. Lawson said the average cost of mitigation is about $1,500 per household.
And if you are building a new home, you want to make sure the builders use new radon-resistant construction practices.
Businesses, churches and other buildings also are not exempt from radon and also can be tested for the gas.
So, don’t wait until winter. Schedule a radon test for your home soon. You can do so by calling MCHD Environmental Health at 304-598-5131 or filling out a form online at monchd.org/contact-environmental.html.