RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Lung cancer is the deadliest cancer in the Unites States. It’s caused most frequently by smoking, but radon exposure is believed to be the second leading cause. Radon may be lurking in your own home or your child’s school without you even knowing.
Home sweet home, it’s a place many of us feel comfortable and spend a large majority of our day. But what you may not know is 25% of homes these days could be killing you slowly because of radon.
“A lot of them have never heard of it before and just don’t understand the consequences of high Radon,” said Scott Garnett, a local realtor.
Garnett highly recommends his clients test a home they are looking to buy for radon before they complete the purchase.
“We’re right near a river where there is a lot of granite bedrock,” said Garnett.
The reason for Garnett’s passion is his home tested high for radon. The EPA has set an action level of 4 pCi/L. At or above this level of radon, the EPA says you should take corrective measures to reduce your exposure to the harmful gas.
“After the earthquake two or three years ago, I brought Wally Dorsey back in to retest it and we found that we were closer to four, and I think slightly over four,” said Garnett.
A map from the Virginia Department of Health shows the areas with the highest risk of having radon being Chesterfield, Amelia, Nottoway, Powahtan, Goochland, and Dinwiddie. The reason these areas have a high quantity of naturally occurring uranium in the soil. Areas to the east have a lower risk.
The good news is the problem is correctable with mitigation. Wally Dorsey, Jr. is the owner of Radon Ease. They perform testing for radon. He says high levels of radon could be as bad as smoking.
“At 4 pCi/L, if you spend 75% of your time in a home it’s roughly like smoking about a half pack of cigarettes a day,” said Dorsey Jr.
And at higher levels he says could be more like smoking several packs a day. The scary part, there often are no systems and no odor that would lead someone to know they even had a problem.
8News tagged along with Dorsey as he tested two homes. Neither showed extremely high levels, but residents felt the need to test because other homes near by had high levels.
“I have a coworker that recently bought (a home) near Stony Point and his house actually had high levels of radon. And, I also have a friend who use to live in the area and passed away from lung cancer who didn’t smoke, and if you look at the causes of lung cancer radon is a cause,” said Susan Graham, a local resident.
As for Garnett, he says he feels so passionate about protecting his clients that he has considered paying for the radon test himself if a client isn’t able to.
“If I had a buyer that did not want to pay for it, I feel passionate enough about it I would step in and have the test done myself,” he said.
But radon isn’t only a risk in your home. It could also be in your child’s school, and the testing for it is rarely done.
“Our present code for school testing is very old. It was put in in 94,” said Ryan Paris with the Virginia Department of Health.
Back in the early 90’s, the General Assembly passed a bill that required every school in the state be tested for radon as a one time thing. The only problem is that they required the testing, but no law was ever passed requiring high levels to be mitigated. And there was no provision for retesting, only requiring that new school buildings be tested when they are opened.
The EPA has set an action level of 4 pCi/L radon in dwellings. At or above this level of radon, the EPA says buildings should be mitigated by a professional. We checked in with area school districts to see if they test regularly and what the test results were.
First in Chesterfield, they have continued regular testing. At Manchester High, which was tested in May of 2013, a room identified at “S111” test results showed the reading well over the action level coming in at 5.5 pCi/L. At “Office M” at Greenfield Elementary School, a reading of exactly 4.0. We asked Chesterfield County for documents where the issue had been corrected.
Spokesperson Shawn Smith told 8News, “while the school division does not have a specific document dating back from almost three years ago in 2013 that would detail our response, and out of an abundance of caution, both rooms are scheduled to be retested.” Those retest results show the levels were both below 2 pCi/L.
In Henrico, test results in January of 2014 after a school renovation showed 23 readings at Tuckahoe Elementary that were over the 4.0 action level. The room labled “First Floor Art Room QA” tested the highest at 7.6 pCi/L.
Spokesperson Andy Jenks says at Tuckahoe a mitigation system was installed back in August of 2015. Testing performed in December 2015 showed levels had dropped dramatically. All results were below 4.0.
Richmond in the past several years has brought five new schools into operation. Those schools are Huguenot High School, MLK Middle School, MLK Pre K, Broad Rock Elementary School and Oak Grove Elementary School.
All of these schools should have been tested for radon. However, through a Freedom of Information Act Request, 8News learned none had been tested.
Assistant Superintendent for Support Services,Tommy Kranz, tells 8News that after our request, he has ordered testing be done at those schools and we are awaiting the results. Once we receive the results of the tests spurred by our investigation in Richmond Schools, we will pass those along to you.
It is important to note that testing assumes occupancy of a room for 75 percent of the day. Most students are not in the same room for that long in a single day, so the risks are even less.
In Petersburg, their schools were tested back in 1990 and no schools showed raised levels, more recent testing was not available. In Colonial Heights most schools were recently tested for radon none showed increased levels.
For a low-cost radon test kit for your home, visit the VDH website.