Environmental experts have long called radon, an odorless, colorless radioactive gas that seeps naturally from the ground, the invisible killer. According to the American Lung Association, almost one third of West Virginia homes have dangerous levels of radon gas.
Pendleton County, along with 19 other counties along the eastern and northern border of the state, has the highest potential threat level, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Pendleton sits in what the EPA refers to as a “red zone.” These areas have “a predicted average indoor radon screening level greater than four pico curies per liter.” The EPA calls this an “action level,” meaning that homes in these areas should be tested for radon and, if necessary, equipped to protect residents.
“The Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Environmental Health states that radon is a threat to health, particularly our lungs, “ said Rick Gillespie, Pendleton County Emergency Services Coordinator.
Experts say that exposure to high levels of radon equals the potential damage of smoking eight cigarettes per day.
“Radon in homes is more common than you think. In fact, high levels of radioactive radon gas have been found in every state but most places in the country remain undertested, so this isn’t something that should be taken lightly. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States,” said Kevin Stewart, director, Environmental Health for the Lung Association. “Testing for radon is the only way to know if the air in your home is safe. The good news is that it is easy to test. Do-it-yourself test kits are simple to use and inexpensive.”
Those who smoke tobacco have a higher potential risk of cancer when exposed to radon, five times the average likelihood of dying in an automobile accident, according to the EPA.
Testing for radon costs little with kits often available at hardware stores or online. In some cases, homes with maximum energy efficiency features make the radon problem more acute because they have less opportunity for ventilation of fresh air from the outside.
According to the American Lung Association “a typical radon mitigation system consists of a vent pipe, fan and properly sealing cracks and other openings. This system collects radon gas from underneath the foundation and vents it to the outside.” The EPA recommends contacting the appropriate state officials to find contractors that specialize in radon mitigation.
Radon gas originates in the natural decay of uranium in the ground. Uranium appears in trace amounts everywhere, but some areas have higher concentrations than others, leading to a greater risk.
Gillespie explained that “due to the geology of Pendleton County, we are identified as an area where it is suggested that we try to mitigate the impact of radon gas in our homes.”
The entire Potomac Highlands and Eastern Panhandle region lies in the area of greatest risk in West Virginia.
“I encourage folks to educate themselves and make their own decisions on what steps to take,” added Gillespie.