State laws come into play with radon detection

Tony Casey • Oct 24, 2013 at 2:10 PM

The federal government’s goal with Radon Awareness Week this year is to prevent lung cancer deaths.

Health agencies across the country have been teaming up this week to try to tackle the amount of deaths caused by the naturally occurring, invisible, odorless radioactive gas that is the leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers.

A news release from the Surgeon General said a recent Harvard Study ranked radon to be country’s top-ranked in-home hazard. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates more than 20,000 people die each year of radon-related lung cancer.

Because it permeates into poorly vented homes through basements, walls and in the foundation, and can accumulate over time, there are easy ways to detect and fix the problem areas.

One difficulty a local home inspector, Sam Morris of Top to Bottom Home Inspection LLC, has come across is that the state doesn’t require radon tests during real estate transactions.

“Tennessee doesn’t require it like some of the northern states,” Morris said. “People from those states tend to know more about it.”

He said if he administers the tests with his professional equipment, it usually runs a customer in the $100-$125 range, and people see it as an unnecessary add-on.

Morris said it’s not just an add-on, and it could be the difference between life and death.

He shared a story about a man from Elizabethton who called him about his family’s horse farm, which didn’t have a basement. His grandmother, who was in her 70s, had died of lung cancer even though she wasn’t a smoker and was never exposed to second-hand smoke. The man was curious about radon, and asked Morris to administer his tests.

When the results came back, Morris said the results showed radon levels to be more than 20 times acceptable limits. He said he’s also heard stories about 40-year-old non-smokers on chemotherapy for radon-related lung cancer.

Aside from paying for home inspectors like Morris, there are tests that can be purchased at home improvement stores for around $15. Morris said he’s used the store-bought tests next to his professional equipment and said they were very reliable. They do need to be handled carefully, as moisture and condensation can alter results.

A map on the EPA’s website shows high-risk areas within the state, and Northeast Tennessee contains a great deal of the state’s troubled spots. Morris said in his experience, Colonial Heights and Jonesborough were places where he’d come across radon. He said it’s a fairly common occurrence for him to find radon, and it poses a legitimate risk.

Tennessee had its Radon Awareness week starting Oct. 16, and released information about the state’s radon levels. In the release, the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation said the EPA estimates around 70 percent of the state’s population to live in moderate- to high-risk areas.

TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau pushed for state inhabitants to do what they can to fight the gas.

“I encourage all Tennesseeans to check for the presence of radon in their homes,” Martineau said. “Testing each household is an important step to safeguard homes from the dangers of the exposure to radon.”

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