Growings On: January is National Radon Action Month

Roger Gates

Among non-smokers, exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer. Radon is a radioactive, colorless, odorless, naturally occurring gas that comes from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rock. Uranium is often found in high concentrations in granite and rocky soils, which is part of why radon is such a persistent problem in Georgia. Radon is released into the soil and can easily seep into homes through cracks and gaps in the foundation. Radon can be found in all types of homes, including those on slabs, basements and crawlspaces.

As it is every year, January is National Radon Action Month. Response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led many to spend more time indoors than they might otherwise. This may lead to greater exposure if radon is present. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, about 1 in 15 homes have a radon level that should be reduced. Since 1980, 222 radon test have been completed in Whitfield County. About 19% (43) of the homes tested had elevated levels of radon. Radon levels are highest in the cooler months and can concentrate to dangerous levels indoors. This year, more than 800 Georgia residents will die of radon-related lung cancer. These deaths are preventable.

Testing for radon gas is simple and inexpensive. A short-term radon test is hung in the lowest level of the home for three to seven days before being mailed to the laboratory. The laboratory will then send the homeowner results after it processes the test kit. Test kits can be obtained from the University of Georgia Radon Program website (radon.uga.edu) or a hardware or big box store. During January, Georgians can receive $5 off their online radon test kit order at by using the code NRAM2021 at checkout. If the radon level in your home is high, you can install a radon reduction system. A radon reduction (or radon mitigation) system reduces high levels of indoor radon to acceptable levels. The system most frequently used is a vent pipe system and fan that pulls radon from beneath the house and vents it to the outside. Radon exposure from drinking water is primarily a concern in private wells. In Georgia, wells drilled into granitic crystalline rock aquifers, usually in the northern part of the state, are at risk of naturally occurring radon contamination. Uranium that decays to radon can be found at higher levels. UGA Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories in Athens test water samples for the presence of radon. Water testing kits can be obtained from local UGA Extension offices. If a private well is of concern, UGA recommends testing the home air first and, if that result is high, then testing drinking water.If the radon level is higher than 4 pCi/L, home mitigation should be considered. Mitigation is used to remove radon. A registered mitigator should be used and estimates from more than one professional obtained. The EPA "Consumer Guide to Radon Reduction" includes a helpful checklist about how to select a radon mitigation professional. There are no laws mandating a mitigator receive certification in Georgia, however, many mitigators chose to get certified by one of two national programs. The program recommends use of a certified mitigator. Mitigation may include installation of a fan ventilation system that removes the concentrated radon to the outdoors. Radon released outside is safe and of no health concern.

Radon testing should be considered during real estate transactions. The UGA Radon Program recommends hiring a certified radon tester. These testers are trained to use equipment that is tamper-proof and can provide a radon result quickly within the due diligence period. Radon testing should be as routine as any other household precautionary measures, says Derek Cooper, UGA Extension radon educator. I like to ask people, "Do you have a smoke detector?" Almost everybody says yes. In the U.S. about 3,000 people die from house fires each year. But if I ask someone if they have tested for radon, they usually say, no, and about 21,000 people a year die from radon-induced lung cancer, Cooper said.

If the radon level in your home reads high, Cooper suggests having it retested to double-check the levels before investing in mitigation. From there, you can determine the need to contact a certified radon mitigator who will treat your home, typically with a radon-reduction system.

Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at roger.gates@uga.edu.

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