By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on September 30, 2013
Radon exposure isn’t typically associated with the state’s coastal areas, but health officials say high levels of the gas have shown up in homes tested in Dare County and surrounding areas over the past two decades.
The leading environmental cause of lung cancer, radon is a concern for all homeowners in North Carolina, says Phillip Gibson, radon program coordinator for the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“While the geology of the coastal region may not naturally contain high levels of uranium, the N.C. Radon Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency know that rock used for creating building foundations as well building materials may come from quarries that do have high levels of uranium,” Gibson said.
Gibson said that although only a small number of home tests have been conducted in the coastal region since 1996, a significant number had radon levels in excess of the recommended “action” levels set by the EPA.
The data was provided by national companies that sell do-it-yourself kits. The average radon level of 18 homes tested in Dare County was 3.7 picocuries per liter, or pCi/L. The EPA action level is 4.0 pCi/L although the EPA also recommends Americans consider fixing a home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L.
One test in Hyde County revealed a level of 5.5 pCi/L, and three tests in Washington County had an average of 5.2pCi/L. Nearly 600 homes tested in Bertie County had an average radon level of 3.8 pCi/L.
The EPA estimates that radon causes about 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year.
Radon is an invisible, odorless, tasteless gas that results from the natural decay of uranium.
“Homes act like vacuums and draw in gases such as radon, which could result in increased concentrations of radon gas in the home,” Gibson said.
Most homes, regardless of age or type, can be susceptible to radon.
According to information from the N.C. Radon Program, radon can seep into a home through cracks in concrete slabs, spaces behind brick veneer walls that rest on uncapped hollow-brick foundations, pores and cracks in concrete blocks, floor-wall joints, exposed soil, mortar joints, weeping drain tile, loose fitting pipe penetrations and water.
Any radon exposure carries some risk, according to experts in the field, even levels below 4 pCi/L. Homeowners with high levels can effectively reduce their risk through mitigation efforts, Gibson added.
Gibson spoke at the Manteo Rotary Club on Monday as part of a statewide effort to urge residents to test homes for radon.
“The NC Radon Program is increasing its educational efforts in the coastal region in order to encourage additional voluntary testing so that they may protect themselves from this leading environmental cause of lung cancer,” Gibson said.
Gibson will be giving presentations throughout October in the coastal regional and would be interested in presenting to local leaders from the development, real estate and medical industries.
Home test kits are less than $5 and can be purchased through the NC Radon website, www.ncradon.org. Homeowners with infants can obtain the test for free.