By Anita Kopera
Radon Section Supervisor, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection
Severe cold and wintry weather has caused most of us to shut and lock our windows, weather strip our doors, and take whatever measures necessary to prevent the chill from finding its way inside.
But in making our homes a safe haven from the cold, the lack of ventilation can result in another safety concern. And that’s why the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is urging homeowners and school officials to test for radon.
The presence of radon, which is a naturally occurring gas that is linked to cancer, can be checked by using simple tests that are available through radon testing contractors, some local health departments, via mail order or through home improvement centers and hardware stores. These tests are inexpensive, easy to use and ensure the safety of families and students statewide.
Due to its geological makeup, the northwestern part of New Jersey, particularly Sussex, Warren, Morris, Somerset and Hunterdon counties, typically has the largest number of homes with elevated radon concentration. Sections of Mercer and Monmouth counties also have high radon levels.
However, it’s a good idea that everyone test for radon, because pockets of high radon concentrations can be found in other parts of the state, too.
To access the New Jersey Radon Potential Map, which shows radon risks for each county and municipality in the state, go to: njradon.org/radonin.htm
Radon is a colorless, odorless and tasteless radioactive gas that enters buildings through openings that are in contact with the ground, such as cracks in the foundation, sump pits, and small openings around pipes. Radon decays into radioactive particles that can get trapped in your lungs when you breathe, which could damage lung tissue. Long-term exposure can lead to lung cancer.
The EPA estimates radon causes 21,000 deaths annually. The Surgeon General has warned that radon is the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers, and second leading cause of lung cancer after cigarette smoking.
The DEP and the EPA recommend that action be taken to mitigate if test results indicate radon levels of 4 picocuries per liter (4 pCi/L) of radon or higher. Mitigation usually entails installation of a venting system that draws the gas out of the home.
Homeowners and residents have options to test where they live. Some local health departments may provide free or low-cost radon test devices. Self-test kits can be purchased from $15 to $50, while state certified contractors generally charge between $50 and $200 for the service. It’s just important to make sure the kit used is labeled with a New Jersey certification number of the company that produced it—the number will begin with “MEB9” followed by 4 digits.
Schools are to obtain testing devices from a certified business or work with a certified contractor.Testing for the presence of radon in your home or school is relatively simple to do. We encourage you to take the steps needed to ensure your health and safety. Lists of New Jersey certified testing and mitigation businesses and general radon information are available at www.radon.org or call the Radon Section Information Line at 800-648-0394 or 609-984-5425.