By Sharon Omahen
University of Georgia
As a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension radon educator, Ginger Bennett works year-round to educate Georgians on the dangers of radon exposure. January, though, is National Radon Action Month and a perfect time test your home for radon.
An invisible, odorless, radioactive gas, radon occurs naturally in rocks and soils. 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 high," Bennett said.
Second leading cause
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States. It's the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.
"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon is responsible for more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths a year," Bennett said. "About 600 of those are Georgians."
Radon is a result of the natural breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. Uranium takes a long time to decay, and radon gas is one of the last stages.
Testing is easy, inexpensive
Testing your home for elevated levels of radon is simple and inexpensive. you can buy test kits at hardware and home improvement stores or directly from radon testing companies for under $25.
Through an EPA grant, complimentary radon test kits are available to Georgia homeowners from their local Extension offices. The kit comes with an envelope containing activated charcoal. It should be hung for three days in the lowest occupied level of a home.
After the envelope has hung for three full days, mail the test kit immediately to a laboratory, because the radioactive substance in it decays quickly. This will ensure a more accurate result.
Within 10 days, the homeowner will get a report via mail or e-mail.
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," Bennett said.
Remove with mitigation
If the average results of the two tests are above 4 picocuries per liter, 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 installing a ventilation system that will reduce the 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. The 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're 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 Georgia Department of Consumer Affairs and Southface Energy Institute.
To learn more about on the radon education program, visit www.gafamilies.com/housing/radon. To order a free radon test kit from your 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.)