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Environmental Health

Do you live in ... a 'Radon Zone'?

Do you live in ... a 'Radon Zone'?

Jan. 22, 2020

By Mary Wade Burnside

Are you living in a realm with potentially dangerous, odorless, colorless gas that forms from the breakdown of uranium in the soil? A radioactive gas that is undetectable to the human senses that may be seeping up from the earth and into the crevices of your floors and walls?

If so, you may have just crossed over into … The Radon Zone.

OK, so it sounds a little melodramatic, but that’s what happens when you try to tailor information about radon in the style of Rod Serling.

That’s what Monongalia County Health Department has done with its video, which can be viewed by going here.

The idea came from the fact that Monongalia County is in “the red zone” when it comes to this odorless gas that seeps up from the breakdown of rocks in the soil. It then can seep into homes and other buildings and accumulate.

Nationally, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, 1 in 15 homes have high levels of radon.

But in Monongalia County, that figure is 1 in 5.

Making a video in the style of the old 1960s “Twilight Zone” series was a way to get the message across.

It was also great to have “Rod Serling” — local actor Michael Vozniak, a Fairmont native and WVU grad student and teaching assistant — inform audiences about radon while channeling the icon and intense chain-smoking screenwriter, TV producer and narrator of the show.

The fact that Serling was a chain smoker was a convenient coincidence. Exposure to too much radon is the No. 2 leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, next to smoking. In a given year, about 21,000 Americans die from lung cancer caused by high levels of radon. Serling, who could often be seen with a cigarette in his hand with smoke billowing next to him, died of the disease at the age of 50.

Because we’re the health department, we did not ask Michael to actually use cigarettes in “The Radon Zone.” Those are smoke-free cocoa bean sticks playing the role of Serling’s ever-present cig.

The video also gives the viewers a chance to see what it’s like to get a radon test. Joe Lawson, an MCHD Environmental Health sanitarian as well as a certified radon measurement specialist, crosses the colossal cosmos, or at least parts of North Central West Virginia, to detect this noxious yet noble gas, as Serling notes in the video.

That means that Joe will come to your home and set up a continuous radon monitor that will run for 48 hours. Two days later, he returns to collect the device, which generates a report that is mailed or emailed to the customer.

If the reading is 4 picocuries per liter or higher, then the homeowner should consider mitigation techniques that will lower the radon levels in their home. A certified radon contractor can do the job and the average cost is $1,500.

The cost for a test by MCHD Environmental Health is $125 in Monongalia County and $150 in surrounding areas. How often should you get one? Every few years. Radon can be elusive, with one house measuring a high level while the one next door is OK. One year, your house can be fine. A few years later, the radon level can be higher.

So, submitted for your approval: Radon, an invisible, odorless gas, might be skulking and lying in wait in your home. But we can detect it, and it can be mitigated. A case to be filed under Rn — for radon.

​For more information or to make an appointment for a test, call MCHD Environmental Health at 304-598-5131.

Mary Wade Burnside is the public information officer for Monongalia County Health Department.

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