By Stephanie R. Butcher, Coweta County Extension Service

QUESTION: I have heard that radon can be a problem in this part of Georgia. What is radon? Can I test for it?

AGENT: Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers, and second leading cause behind smoking. Each year approximately 21,000 deaths in the U.S. occur because of radon. Radon is invisible, tasteless, and odorless. The effects of exposure to radon can take years to develop and because of this, radon is often overlooked.

Radon is a naturally occurring gas that comes from the decay of uranium found in most rocks and soil. It can enter your home through cracks in the foundation, exposed soil in basements and crawlspaces, and well water. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about 1 in 15 homes in the United States has a high radon level (over 4.0 picocuries per liter). In fact, 15-21% of homes tested for radon in Coweta County have higher than recommended levels. Breathing high levels of radon over time can cause lung cancer.

The only way to know if your home has a high level of radon is to test it. This is an easy DIY project. Radon test kits are available from several sources including local retailers, some county extension offices, and by ordering online from UGA Extension (www.UGAradon.com).  Kits purchased online cost $13, and this includes the kit, shipping, lab analysis, and results. If the radon level in your home is high, you can have a radon reduction system installed. You should also consider testing your well water.

Another dangerous gas that gets lots of attention during winter months is carbon monoxide. Most people are more familiar with carbon monoxide (CO) than radon. This deadly gas is also colorless, tasteless, and odorless. Each year, unintentional CO poisoning results in more than 400 deaths in the U.S.

There are several sources of CO in your home. These include fuel-burning appliances like water heaters, heating systems, space heaters, generators, and fumes from vehicles idling in an attached garage. The most common warning signs of CO poisoning are headache, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath and confusion. If someone is displaying these symptoms, get them outside the house immediately then call 911.

There are several simple things you can do to prevent CO poisoning. One of the most important things is to install a battery operated CO detector or one with battery backup near sleeping areas. You should also have your heating system inspected annually by trained service technicians.

For more information about radon or carbon monoxide, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 or visit www.ugaradon.org.

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