June 2014
Homeplace & Community

A Simple Home Test

Reduces the high cost of radon in Alabama

Residents of every county vulnerable

Up to 30,000 non-smokers lose their lives to lung cancer in America each year. The cause? Exposure to excessive amounts of radon in their homes.

In Alabama, high levels – more than four picocuries per liter - of the colorless, odorless gas abound particularly in the north and central regions. However, according to spokeswoman Patricia Smith, the U.S. Surgeon General has declared all 67 counties in Alabama vulnerable, meaning "everyone needs to test their homes for radon."

 
“Alabama is a radon state,” according to Patricia Smith, Alabama radon coordinator. “Every home should be tested.” The counties in red have the highest levels of radon at greater than four picocuries/liter, yellow signifies two to four pc/l, and green less than two pc/L.  

Smith spoke April 15 to the Huntsville Rotary Club at the Von Braun Center. Huntsville Rotary is one of the oldest and largest such groups in the area and engages in service to others, especially high school youths, as part of its mission.

As the state radon coordinator for counties in North and Central Alabama, Smith works for the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service and makes frequent presentations to adults and children. Many who talked with her at an exhibit for a Madison County Earth Day celebration weren’t aware of how harmful radon can be, she said.

A DVD shown to the Rotary members presented the personal side of lung cancer brought on by radon exposure. Showing profiles of men and women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, the mini-documentary showed a husband trying to hold back tears as he coped with his wife’s surprising diagnosis.

"I believe radon caused my lung cancer," a busy mother from Oakmont, Pa., announced.

Driving her children to one of their many sporting events, she bravely said, "Life doesn’t stop because I’m sick."

Her home tested at 50-46 points higher than the four pc/liter danger level.

Dennie Edwards, a third person with cancer, explained how he lost his left lung to the disease.

"Something as simple as a radon test," said the DVD moderator Connie Durst, "can prevent (such trauma)."

Sponsor of the presentation is CanSAR.org, Cancer Survivors Against Radon.

Smith told the Rotary Club that high amounts of radon can be mitigated by trained professionals. For families whose houses are on slabs, for example, the contractor "puts a PVC pipe into the ground and runs it into the home." A chemical smoke test is often completed first to locate the source and direction of air movement. The cost depends on the type of foundation.

To select an honest, responsible contractor she encouraged club members and guests to contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Another website, www.epa.gov.radon, contains links to educational pamphlets, hotlines and other resources.

"Radon comes from the decay of uranium," she said. "It’s in the soil and comes in through cracks in (the foundations of) our homes."

Homeowners can test their houses using a simple $7 test. The kit comes complete with instructions, a data sheet and a paid return box in which the testing vial can be placed and mailed to a lab through the U.S. Postal Service. Smith sold dozens of kits at the Rotary luncheon and told the club members more are available at the Madison County Extension Service on Cook Avenue. They’re also available through such lawn and garden stores as Lowe’s and Home Depot.

Compared with the toll from other cancers, said CanSAR.org spokeswoman Durst as she summed things up, "Thirty thousand deaths from radon is just a drop in the bucket … unless it is you."

Anyone wishing to schedule a presentation by Patricia Smith may contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information. During the summer, she schedules special programs for Boys & Girls Clubs, 4-H groups, city and county libraries, and scout troops.

Maureen Drost is a freelance writer from Huntsville.