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Radon Remains a Quiet Killer in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians are urged to check their homes for high levels of radon this week, in observance of Federal Radon Action Week.

The air in the Keystone State has one of the highest concentrations of carcinogenic radon gas in the country, according to Robert Lewis, Radon Division Chief at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Lewis said prolonged exposure to radon can cause lung cancer. The gas is thought to cause 22,000 deaths each year across the country. The DEP estimates anywhere from 4 to 17 percent of those fatalities occur in Pennsylvania.

Originating from natural uranium deposits in the ground, radon gas enters homes through the basement, but Lewis said it's hard to tell if radon is actually present in a building.

"It would actually behoove us, or be beneficial to us, if radon carried some sort of a stigma with it, like a foul odor or a burning in the eyes, but it doesn't," said Lewis. "So, it's totally non-detectable by our senses, and because of that, we basically need to rely on some test kits."

Lewis said the DEP provides test kits, or homeowners can buy them at many hardware stores and home improvement businesses. Once the testing is done, residents must send off the test kits to a DEP-approved analyzer to get results.

If a home does turn out to have a high level of radon gas, Lewis said it's important to have professionals install a mitigation system as soon as possible.

"It's a fairly easy system to install," said Lewis. "It's basically a ventilation system. You drill a hole through the basement floor, you connect a PVC pipe, you run that to the outside of the home, you then use a fan to draw the air from underneath the basement floor and exhaust it up above the roof line."

Lewis said his department installs anywhere from 10,000 to 12,000 mitigation systems each year. The DEP reports that 40 percent of Pennsylvania homes have dangerously high levels of radon. Only one in every ten has been tested for the gas.

For answers to any radon-related questions, homeowners can call the DEP's Radon Division at 1-(800)-237-2366 or visit its website.