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EPA urges radon testing; parts of Fredericksburg area in "high" zone
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By RUSTY DENNEN
Your home can be hazardous to your health--not from something you can see, but from radon, an odorless, colorless gas that can kill over many years of exposure.
Bonnie Smith, spokeswoman for the Environmental Protection Agency, says the organization is renewing its push to make the public aware of the potential danger.
"It's as important this year as it was in past years to test for radon," she said, noting that the EPA has designated January as National Radon Action Month. Last September, EPA joined the World Health Organization's first global call-to-action on cancer risk from radon.
Testing, Smith says, is most effective "when houses are closed up" during winter months and ventilation is limited.
Radon is typically an under-the-radar issue with homeowners, she says.
"The truth is that people just don't think about it" as a potential problem. Some states, such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey, require that homes be tested before they can be sold. That's not the case in Virginia.
Just because a home was tested, say, 20 years ago, doesn't mean it's safe now.
"Houses shift over time, so it's good [to test] every five years or so," Smith said.
RADON HOT SPOT
Radon gas is present in all of Virginia, but one "hot" zone runs through Central Virginia and much of the Fredericksburg area, according to an EPA map of areas of concern.
The state is divided into three zones. Stafford, Spotsylvania, Orange and Louisa counties, for example, are in Zone 1. That means they have the highest potential for the gas in homes, at a predicted level greater than 4 picocuries per liter of air in samples.
Zone 2, generally west of Fredericksburg and including Prince William, Fauquier and Culpeper counties, has a predicted moderate level between 2 and 4 picocuries. A picocurie (pronounced PEE-ko curee) is equivalent to the radioactivity present in one- trillionth of a gram of pure radium.
Zone 3, with a low level of less than 2 picocuries, runs to the east of Fredericksburg, including King George, Caroline and Westmoreland counties.
Four and above is the threshold at which the EPA recommends remedial action by a certified radon contractor.
Radon is a colorless, orderless radioactive gas that comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock and water.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates it is responsible for about 20,000 deaths in the United States each year, second only to cigarette smoking. Smokers who breathe radon over a period of years are especially at risk.
The EPA and the surgeon general recommend testing for the gas in all homes below the third floor. The agency estimates that 80 percent of U.S. homes have not been tested.A citizen's guide to radon, epa.gov/radon/pubs/citguide .html#overview
The only way to know if you are at risk from radon is to test your home for radon or have it tested by a certified professional radon tester.
For do-it-yourselfers, radon kits can be purchased for $10 to $20 at building supply, hardware and general merchandise stores. A basic test takes 10 minutes to set up and when complete is mailed to a lab for analysis. The lab fee is another $20 to $30, depending upon the kit.
If test results are above the EPA recommended action level, you need to have the radon level reduced by a certified radon mitigator. Reducing radon is not technically difficult and costs approximately $800 to $2,500.
To find professional radon testers and certified radon mitigators locally, go online to the National Environmental Health Association, neha.org, or National Radon Safety Board, nrsb.org, sites. Several companies are listed locally in the Star Directory and Yellow Pages.
Be sure to ask to see mitigators' credentials.