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Radon: What You Can’t See Can Hurt You

By Eleanor Divver

In my job, I hear a lot of stories about families who have suffered terrible personal losses because they were unknowingly exposed to radon gas in their homes. Some of these stories, like the one below, just break my heart.

A family moved to Salt Lake City eighteen years ago. The company that paid for their move asked the seller to perform a radon test on the house the family planned to purchase. The test came back with levels at 7.8 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of air. That’s above the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) action level of 4 pCi/L of air. The seller asked to perform another test. The family agreed, and the second test came back at 3.7 pCi/L of air…below the EPA action level. Satisfied that the home was safe, the family moved in.

Fast forward to 2015. The mother of the family discovers that she has Stage 4 lung cancer. The family re-tests the home, and discovers that the radon levels in the home are 7.5 pCi/L of air. How did this happen? Well, the homeowner probably opened the windows while testing the home the second time to lower the reading, which gave the family a false sense of security.

Unfortunately, this family’s situation is not unique. Radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers. One in three homes in Utah has tested above the radon action level.

Think about it. One in three homes—a third of the homes in the state—show high levels of indoor radon.

According to the Utah Geologic Survey, the soil and rocks in many areas of the state are favorable for high indoor radon levels. The average radon level in homes tested in Utah comes in at an unhealthy 5.3 pCi/L.

Governor Herbert with DEQ radon Poster Contest Winners

Governor Herbert with DEQ radon Poster Contest Winners

The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Governor’s Office are working together to raise awareness about the health hazards from radon gas to ensure that Utah residents know how to protect themselves from this silent killer. Last week, Governor Gary Herbert signed a declaration designating January 11-17, 2015, as “Radon Action Week” and honored the three elementary school winners of a radon awareness poster contest sponsored by DEQ. The governor urged the students to act as ambassadors in their schools and communities by spreading the word about the dangers of radon gas.

The only way to know if you have high levels of radon in your home is to test for it, and testing is cheap and easy! We have test kits that are available online for $8.00 for Utah residents. Even if you’ve tested for radon in the past, the EPA recommends that you test your home every two years, as levels can change.

The good news is that if you discover you have high levels of radon in your home, you can install a mitigation system for around $1300 that will bring the radon to levels around 2 pCi/L of air. You can check out our list of EPA Certified Mitigators to find a certified contractor that can install a system in your home. Not sure you can afford it? Green and Healthy Homes has funding available for qualifying households to help pay for the costs of mitigation.

Please take the time to educate yourself about the dangers of radon gas. Let’s make those stories of families shattered by radon a thing of the past. 

Test your home for radon today!The only way to know for certain about the radon levels in your home is to test for it. Concerned? Don’t worry! Attend one of our upcoming radon education sessions to learn more about how you can protect yourself and your family. I hope to see you there!

e_divverI have worked in the radon field for 15 years, most recently as the radon coordinator for the Division of Radiation Control. I enjoy being outdoors with my family and golden retriever.