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Georgia granite one source of deadly gas

By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia

Georgia is known for its granite, but this beautiful resource also may contain radon, a gas that kills more than 600 Georgians each year.

Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. It is an invisible, odorless, radioactive gas that occurs naturally in rock and soil. It enters homes through cracks and other openings in home foundations.

"We have a lot of granite in Georgia and the likelihood of having trace uranium is very likely," said Ginger Bennett, one of three radon educators working through University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

Natural breakdown

Radon is a result of the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. Uranium takes a long time to decay. Radon gas is one of the last stages.

Through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant, complementary radon test kits are available to Georgia homeowners from their local Extension office. The kit comes with an envelope containing activated charcoal. It should be hung for three days in the lowest occupied level of a home.

"There's always going to be a higher reading closer to the dirt," she said. "However, if you don't spend any time in your basement, don't test there."

After the envelope has hung for three full days, the test kit should be mailed immediately to a laboratory because the radioactive substance in it decays quickly. This will insure a more accurate result.

Within 10 days, the homeowner will receive a report via mail or e-mail.

If high, test again

If the first test results show a high reading, a second test is recommended to get an average of the two.

"We provide a $6.99 coupon for the second test," she said.

If the average results of the two tests are above 4 pCi/L, the EPA action level, the homeowner is provided with a booklet that explains how to fix a radon problem and a list of certified Georgia mitigators. Mitigation involves the installation of a ventilation system that will reduce radon concentration in the indoor air, Bennett said.

"The system essentially sucks air from beneath the footprint of the home and vents it above the roof line," she said. Current average cost for fixing a home for radon is around $1,800.

"That may sound expensive, but compared to the cost of a human life, it's not high," Bennett said. "After all, how do you put a value on a human life? And you have to think about the high cost of medical care for lung cancer."

If you are building a new home, a passive mitigation system can be installed for $300 to $500.

The Georgia Radon Education Program is funded by the EPA in partnership with the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, the Pollution Prevention and Assistance Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and Southface Energy Institute.

For more information on the radon education program, visit /housing/radon. To order a free radon test kit from your local county Extension office, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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