(WYTV) – Unbeknownst to millions of families, the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers could be lurking inside your home.
Exposure to radon, a naturally-occurring radioactive gas, claims an estimated 24,000 lives a year and according to the American Lung Association, many victims have never smoked a cigarette.
What is radon?
Radon is a Class-A carcinogen and the American Lung Association says one in five homes has a problem.
“Comes from the core of the earth. It’s uranium. You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it,” said Joe Khoury, owner of Radon Raiders.
This deadly gas can go undetected inside of your home for years.
“Homes act as natural suction cups to the ground. It’s what we call the stack effect,” Khoury said.
Because it’s a gas, radon is able to move through spaces in the soil and enter a home as it seeps through cracks in drains, walls, floors and construction joints.
“Radon is everywhere. It’s just high levels of it is what we don’t want,” Khoury said.
Radon levels tend to be highest in basements and first-floor rooms that have contact with soil.
The gas can also impact drinking water. Radon dissolved in groundwater can escape into the air in your home as water leaves a faucet. This puts homeowners with private water wells at a particular risk.
“People that already own their own homes and are living in their homes, they need to be thinking about this, especially with kids. It’s something we need to be more conscious about,” Khoury said.
Radon hot spots in our area
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s map of radon zones, the Mahoning and Shenango valleys fall within Zone One and Zone Two. By far, Columbiana County sees the worst of it.
“East Liverpool, I call it a hot zone because we’ve seen homes out there in the hundred picoliters,” Khoury said.
A picoliter is a measure of the rate of radon’s radioactive decay. Radon levels under four picoliters are safe, according to the EPA. At four, it’s time to take action.
“To give you an idea of what a hundred picoliter level actually means, it’s like smoking ten packs of cigarettes a day,” Khoury said.
The amount of radon you’re being exposed to is all based on where your home is located and the ground it sits on.
“It doesn’t matter if your home is 100 years old or one year old, it still needs tested and checked,” Khoury said.
Fixing the problem
What if someone told you for about $1,000, you could prevent yourself from getting cancer? That’s what it takes to have a radon mitigation system put in your home.
Courtney Larson is a busy mom with two young kids, ages 3 and 7. Her constant worry is about their well-being.
So when she found out her sister’s brand new home had just tested positive for high levels of radon gas, she took action at her own house.
“I reached out to a few companies, made a few calls. They came out, set up the machine in our basement and we did have elevated levels,” Larson said.Video: How to use a radon test kit
The machine she’s referring to is a continuous monitor. It’s the first part in the mitigation process.
Professionals will leave it running in the lowest part of your house for three days.
The test showed Larson’s home had between 5 and 6 picoliters — dangerous levels of the gas.
Larson’s first thought was on her kids. Their playroom is in the lowest part of the house.
“We absolutely thought about their health and welfare in the decision and we decided that 5, 10, 20 years, we wouldn’t look back and regret making the investment but we would regret if we didn’t do it,” she said.
Installing a mitigation system only takes a few hours. Khoury starts by drilling a four-inch hole into a basement wall and then installing a fan to depressurize it.
“It’s basically stopping the house from acting like a suction cup to the ground so it’s not sucking that gas into the house,” he said.
“It was very simple, it doesn’t make noise at all,” Larson said. “I never hear it and I never remember it’s there until I come down to do laundry.”
She’s glad she did it.
“I just feel like the risk is not worth it in the end, when you’re thinking about the well-being of your family and your children.”
Once a mitigation system is installed in your home, Khoury says he and his team come back a few weeks later to make sure the system is working properly, and that radon levels are decreasing. He says there have been several occasions where homes have averaged at 10 picoliters, and after a few weeks of the system being installed it has dropped to .03. But again, that will vary from home to home.
The system could last as long as 30 years with proper maintenance.