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Radon is a Problem in PA: Here’s Why (And How to Protect Your Family)

Updated: Sep 14, 2022

Sometimes what you don’t know can hurt you. Such is the case with radon exposure. You can’t see it, taste it or smell it, but it could be present at dangerous levels in your home. 

Radon should be on the radar of every Pennsylvanian, in particular. Why? Exposure to radon is the leading cause of lung cancer in the state. It is also the leading cause of lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers in the United States – causing more than 21,000 deaths nationwide. 

And it’s worse in the Keystone State: 40 percent of Pennsylvania homes have radon levels above the Environmental Protection Agency’s action guideline of 4 picocuries per liter.

Let us back up for a minute to explain that radon occurs naturally during the breakdown of uranium in the ground and enters homes through cracks in the foundation or other openings. Pennsylvania’s geology makes some locations throughout the state hotbeds for radon, which puts residents at risk.

The good news? Determining whether you have a radon problem is simple and relatively inexpensive. And since January is Radon Action Month, we figured today is as good as any to talk about how.

While folks can hire a state-certified company to test radon levels, they can also do it themselves: Test canisters can be purchased at most hardware or home improvement stores for about $25.

Those who go the DIY route should conduct the test in the basement, where radon levels are generally highest. 

For those who are unfamiliar with radon testing: You simply open the canister and set it in the basement, let it sit open for a few days, and then close it up and mail it to the laboratory listed on the label.  

Pro tip: Winter is the best time to test because doors and windows are closed, which provides more accurate results.

If the results indicate a radon level of more than 4 picocuries per liter of air (the action level established by the EPA), it’s recommended that you implement a radon-reduction system.

By way of background, these systems generally involve the installation of a pipe and exhaust fan to vent the gas outdoors. While this remediation could be costly, experts say that mitigating a radon leak may make the future sale of your home a bit easier.

But radon exposure isn’t just an issue in homes. According to a nationwide survey, one out of five schools has at least one classroom with high, short-term radon levels. While the EPA recommends all schools nationwide be tested for radon, to date, only about 20 percent of schools have done so.

This issue prompted 11 states to implement laws regarding radon exposure in schools. Pennsylvania, however, is not among them. 

To find out more about radon in schools (and what you can do to spur action at your child’s school), check out this great resource from our friends at Women for a Healthy Environment. 

Want to learn more? DEP has posted radon tips on Facebook and Twitter and is airing a public service announcement on TV and radio throughout the month – check them out. 

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