By Stephen Smoot
Environmental experts have long called radon, an odorless, colorless radioactive gas that seeps
naturally from the ground, the invisible killer. According to the American Lung Association,
almost one third of West Virginia homes have dangerous levels of radon gas.
Harrison County, along with much of central West Virginia, faces the potential of what the US Environmental Protection Agency considers a “moderate” level of radon. This means that homes could have a “predicted average indoor radon screening level between two and four pico curies per liter.”
“Radon is a problem you can’t see, taste, or smell, but that doesn’t mean the poisonous gas isn’t there,” said Dr. Matthew Christiansen, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DH’s Bureau for Public Health. “The cancer-causing, radioactive gas comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water, and can get into the air we breathe.”
Experts say that exposure to high levels of radon equals the potential damage of smoking eight
cigarettes per day.
“Radon in homes is more common than you think. In fact, high levels of radioactive radon gas
have been found in every state but most places in the country remain undertested, so this isn’t
something that should be taken lightly. Exposure to radon is the second leading cause of lung
cancer in the United States,” said Kevin Stewart, Director, Environmental Health for the Lung
Association. “Testing for radon is the only way to know if the air in your home is safe. The good
news is that it is easy to test. Do-it-yourself test kits are simple to use and inexpensive.”
Those who smoke tobacco have a higher potential risk of cancer when exposed to radon, five
times the average likelihood of dying in an automobile accident, according to the EPA.
Testing for radon costs little with kits often available at hardware stores or online. In some cases,
homes with maximum energy efficiency features make the radon problem more acute because
they have less opportunity for ventilation of fresh air from the outside.
According to the American Lung Association “a typical radon mitigation system consists of a
vent pipe, fan and properly sealing cracks and other openings. This system collects radon gas
from underneath the foundation and vents it to the outside.” The EPA recommends contacting the
appropriate state officials to find contractors that specialize in radon mitigation.
Radon gas originates in the natural decay of uranium in the ground. Uranium appears in trace
amounts everywhere, but some areas have higher concentrations than others, leading to a greater
The Office of Environmental Health Services’ radon program monitors levels across the state, reporting results on the Public Radon Dashboard. Residents may request a free radon testing kit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 304-352-5039.
Kanawha, Boone, Logan, McDowell, Wyoming, and Mingo county residents face a minimum potential for radon gas issues. The eastern and northern border counties, however, have the highest rated risk of a potential of four pico curies per liter or more.
The EPA recommends that all residences, regardless of potential threat level, test for radon.