Radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer, is found in dangerous levels in homes across the Hudson Valley. An invisible threat, radon at a level above the EPA guideline was found in more than 4,000 homes tested in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester counties in October 2017, according to the New York Health Department.
For example, the state estimates that nearly half the home basements in Dutchess County have higher radon levels than the federal safety guideline, with about one in three homes in Orange, Putnam and Ulster counties so affected, based on short term tests taken in the basement of a home under closed house conditions. About 15-17 percent of home basements in Rockland and Westchester are above the guideline.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets its guideline at 4 picocuries per liter. The New York Health Department, which reports on radon around the state every year, in 2017 found 4,438 homes in the lower Hudson Valley with radon measured at more than 4 pci/l in their basements.
"Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell or taste. It can build up in your home, get into the air you breathe and can cause lung cancer in you and your loved ones," said County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert.
Radon usually comes from the surrounding rocks and soil under your home's foundation and can enter through cracks and openings on the lowest level of your home. It is the number one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.
The American Lung Association says an estimated 21,000 people die each year from lung cancer due to exposure to radon in homes and other buildings.
"Radon definitely contributes to the high lung cancer death rate in Putnam County," says Interim Health Commissioner Michael J. Nesheiwat, MD. "Smoking is not the only cause. To find out if you have high radon levels, the only way is to test your home. We always advise residents to perform tests."
Though radon can get into any type of building, including homes, offices, and schools, you and your family are likely to get your greatest exposure at home, where you spend most of your time. The good news is that radon can be reduced by easy, low-cost home testing and repair.
Your granite countertop isn't necessarily the culprit. The Health Physics Society tested many kinds of granite countertops and found that some reports were over-exaggerated. They recommend concerned homeowners have their living areas tested according to EPA guidelines.
New York residents can get radon test kits from the New York State Department of Health, for a fee of $11. To learn more about radon and radon testing, fixing your radon problem, radon resistant new construction, and for a list of approved radon testing labs and certified radon mitigation professionals, call the New York State Department of Health at (800) 458-1158 or e-mail at email@example.com.
Information about radon is also available on the EPA website.
January is Radon Action Month and the American Lung Association of the Northeast offers these tips:
Test homes for radon. Inexpensive radon testing kits can be found at many hardware stores or online. Testing can also be done by a certified radon-testing professional. If dangerous levels of radon are found, homeowners can install a radon mitigation system, for about the same price as a large television, to decrease the risk of harmful exposure.
Speak up to lower radon risk in other indoor spaces. Radon can build up in all buildings, not only in homes. Speak with local community officials and public health professionals to encourage radon testing – and mitigation systems if high levels are found – in schools and childcare facilities and other public and private facilities.
Support policy steps in to reduce radon levels indoors. Concerned New Yorkers should support changes to policies that could lower the risk of exposure to radon, including the adoption of building codes for radon-resistant construction. During real estate transactions, potential buyers should be informed about the radon levels in the home they're considering.