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High Radon Levels Found in Asheville, NC, Residents Encouraged to Test

High Radon Levels Found in Asheville, NC, Residents Encouraged to Test

ASHEVILLE — The idea of a silent killer in your home may be frightening, but what about a killer that's also odorless, intangible and invisible?

Radon poisoning, the second-leading cause of lung cancer after tobacco use, is just that.
With six of the eight counties with the highest radon levels in North Carolina nestled among the 18 western counties, area residents should be paying especially close attention to the elusive carcinogen.

Radon is an odorless, invisible gas that, while harmless in the open air, can be dangerous when concentrated. Seeping out of the ground, it accumulates in houses, schools and workplaces, accounting for about 21,000 deaths each year in the United States.

Radon can become more concentrated this time of year as homes are closed up and sealed for the winter.

Radon Action Month is in January, but Shawn Price, manager of Air Chek, the world's largest manufacturer of radon test kits, based out of Mills River, recommended checking your home as soon as the cold months hit and windows and doors shut.

“What people don't get is that testing your house once doesn't mean its good forever,” Price said. “Houses settle, cracks open up, and we see radon levels change dramatically in houses that once tested normally.”

According to Catherine Rosfjord, radon specialist with N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, houses should ideally be checked twice annually, once in the winter and again in summer.

Natural hazard

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the highest levels of radon in the state, or those in the “red zone,” are primarily found in Western North Carolina. Rosfjord explained that the high radon levels in WNC soil are just a part of the region's natural geology, not something caused by human development.

While the EPA recommends all homes be tested for radon, testing is not mandatory — even in areas with high levels like WNC — and fixing the problem is not mandatory either.

Eddie Metcalfe, a Hendersonville resident who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008 as result of radon poisoning, learned the dangers of neglecting radon testing the hard way.

“I hadn't smoked in 22 years,” said Metcalfe, who was featured in this year's EPA public service announcement on radon testing. “I thought, ‘How could this happen to me?'”

Test your home

Metcalfe's home had not been tested at the time he bought it, and he said it never occurred to him to request a radon checkup.

After his diagnosis, Metcalfe left the doctor's office, went and got a test kit and learned a few days later that the results showed radon at 39.8 pCi/L, or picocuries per liter of air.

That's nearly 10 times the limit deemed safe by the EPA.

As with most homes with elevated levels, Metcalfe was able to install a mitigation system easily and lower levels immediately.

“I think everybody should get their house tested,” Metcalfe said. “Right now, (the mitigation system) is probably saving my life.”

As Price explained, one of the most unique challenges to making radon mitigation regulated is that it's naturally occurring.

“The problem with radon is that it's no one's fault,” Price said, adding that with most harmful environmental substances such as asbestos or lead, a man-made product or activity is often responsible for exposure.

“The only one we have to blame is Mother Nature,” Price said, “and it's really hard to get her to show up in court.”

To view this article, visit http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20101207/LIVING/312070015/1007/COLUMNISTS.