By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Radon may sound like a 1950s movie monster, but its presence in our homes should not be overlooked, especially here in the mountains.
The EPA states that the national average radon level is 1.3 pCi/L (picocuries per liter of air). Several western North Carolina counties have levels almost four times that amount including Swain 5.3, Jackson 3, Graham 5.5, Cherokee 5.5 and Macon 2.5.
“Radon is a decay product of uranium,” said Catherine Rosfjord, MS, tanning and radon manager for the N.C. Radiation Service Center. “Certain rock types, such as granite, have more uranium and therefore also have more radon. Because the mountains of western North Carolina are primarily granite formations, there is a great deal of granite close to the surface and directly under homes. The granite rocks and soils release radon everywhere, but outside there is enough air that the radon is very dilute. In our homes, however, radon can get trapped and accumulate to unsafe levels.”
“In short,” she continued, “we have more radon in western North Carolina because we have more granite which has more uranium which leads to more radon.”
The EPA describes radon as “a gaseous radioactive element” that is “an extremely toxic, colorless gas”.
The N.C. Radon Program states that exposure to radon causes around 15,000 deaths in the U.S. annually and is second only to smoking in causing lung cancer. “The health risk from radon occurs when it is inhaled,” information from the program states. “Radon gas decays or breaks down into radioactive particles which can damage lung cells and lead to lung cancer.”
The program states that a lung cancer risk from radon is based on “years of exposure and the concentration of radon to which one is exposed.”
The EPA strongly encourages people to test their homes for radon. Some home improvement stores sell do-it-yourself kits. More information on radon testing can also be found at www.ncradon.org or by visiting http://sosradon.org/test-kits.