DALLAS -- When she first settled into her Dallas home six years ago, Kimberly Stokes asked if she should test for radon.
She said she was told she didn't need to worry about it.
That’s a starkly different answer than the one you get from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which estimates that radon kills as many as 20,000 Americans each year through lung cancer.
“Never smoked a day in their life, got lung cancer and, unfortunately, died because of that,” said George Brozowski, the EPA’s regional radon coordinator in Dallas.
The EPA has been trying to educate the public with a radon campaign, with commercials that warn viewers that radon is the number-one cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.
Despite the effort, many are still unaware of the risk.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas. It forms when naturally-occurring uranium in the dirt and rock below breaks down and percolates upward, sometimes into buildings. Radon is measured in a tiny unit called Picocuries. The EPA discovered years ago that any level higher than four Picocuries per liter was especially a concern.
“You stood a pretty good chance of getting lung cancer," Brozowski explained. Because of that, he warned, “This is something you need to think about here."
But many Texans probably don’t. Brozowski acknowledges his own agency’s maps show that compared to the rest of the country, much of Texas is listed as having low potential for high levels of radon. Still, he said high readings have been detected here, and that everyone should test.
It’s as simple as putting out a radon-detecting disk for a few days in your house or apartment.
Kimberly Stokes eventually did and, said what she found shocked her. Her level “came back [at] about eight Picocuries per liter."
That’s double the maximum recommended limit set by the EPA.
Stokes doesn’t know why or how it happened, but does live in an older home. Many older homes don’t have vapor barriers that are common in newer construction.
The black, plastic sheath put beneath new foundations can actually block the gas from seeping into a building. But radon can flow into newer or older structures, especially through cracks in the foundation -- which are quite common in the shifting soils of North Texas.
But no matter how radon gets in, you can get it out. Kimberly Stokes paid $2,500 to have a radon reduction system installed.
“It’s just some PVC pipe and the fan [which sucks the radon out] is in the attic,” Stokes explained. “From the surface of the concrete, straight up through the roof."
She said her radon reading has since plummeted from a potentially-dangerous eight Picocuries per liter down to one-half of a Picocurie.
Stokes said that has allowed her to breathe a lot easier.
“Literally,” she chuckled.