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DEP urges testing for radon; 40 percent of Pa. homes said to exceed EPA standard

Jeff Himler
| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 1:48 p.m.
Kits for testing radon levels in a residence are available in retail stores.
Pa. Department of Environmental Protection
Kits for testing radon levels in a residence are available in retail stores.

Forty percent of Pennsylvania homes have levels of radon that exceed standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

During January, national Radon Action Month, state officials are urging residents to test their homes for the odorless, colorless radioactive gas — the second leading cause of lung cancer behind smoking, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.

Radon occurs naturally from the breakdown of uranium in soil and rocks and enters homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings. High levels of radon tend to occur in basements, but the gas can be found anywhere in a home.

The EPA explains that radon can be drawn into a home because the air pressure inside the building usually is lower than the pressure in the soil around the foundation.

“Because of the state's geology, Pennsylvanians are at risk of exposure to high radon levels, ” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a news release. He recommended that residents purchase an inexpensive do-it-yourself radon test kit at a hardware store or hire a qualified professional to conduct a test.

Winter is a good time to test for radon because doors and windows generally are closed, providing more accurate results, the DEP notes.

The EPA and Surgeon General recommend taking action to reduce a radon level of 4 picocuries per liter of air or higher. A variety of professionally installed radon-reduction systems are available, including a vent pipe and exhaust fan to discharge radon gas outside a home.

According to the EPA, costs of radon-reduction systems commonly range from $800 to $2,500. Pennsylvania law requires all professional radon testers, mitigators and laboratories to be certified by the DEP.

It's recommended that those who have installed a radon-reduction system perform follow-up tests for the gas every two years. For homes where levels are detected below the EPA standard, retesting is recommended at the time of any home renovation or excavation.

For more information about radon, including a list of certified service providers, click on “Radon in the home” at the DEP Radon Division website — dep.pa.gov/Business/RadiationProtection/RadonDivision. A hard copy of the list can be obtained by calling the state's radon hotline, 800-237-2366. The division can be contacted via email at ra-epbrpenvprt@pa.gov.

The DEP suggests installing a passive radon system during construction of a new home and notes there is no reliable way to test the ground in advance for the gas.

Pennsylvania's Real Estate Seller Disclosure Act requires sellers to reveal the results of any known radon testing.

Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622, jhimler@tribweb.com or via Twitter @jhimler_news.

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