EPA Environmental Engineer Chandler Milhollin

EPA Environmental Engineer Chandler Milhollin told Rome Rotary leaders that exposure to radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer aside from smoking. Floyd County has tested at double the state average for exposure to the naturally occuring gas. / Doug Walker

Radon is a radioactive gas that is completely natural and comes from the soil as a result of the natural decay of uranium.

Milhollin told members of the Rome Rotary Club that radon is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that is the number one cause of lung cancer for non-smokers. She said 20,000 deaths are recorded annually as a result of radon-induced lung cancer.

"It's a huge problem and we're trying to get the word out for people to know more about," Milhollin said.

While the EPA has established  a safe level of radon at 4 picocuries  per liter, way back in 1988, the World Health Organization actually recommends a level of 2.7.

The environmental engineer said radon gets into homes through cracks in the foundation, dirt crawl spaces and other small cavities. She explained that winter is a great time to test for the gas because homes are closed up and the typical home owner doesn't cycle his air properly without open windows and doors.

"That's how radon tends to build up inside our homes," Milhollin said.

One in 15 homes across the U.S. test above the safe level, but Milhollin said in random samples across Floyd County, about 12 percent of homes have tested above the safe level.

Responding to a question from King Askew, Milhollin said most people don't display any symptoms until they are diagnosed with lung cancer.

Test kits are available at many hardware or home improvement stores. Milhollin said people should put them anywhere from three to five feet off the ground on the lowest living level of a home. After kits are mailed off to the closest lab, most results are available within a week. If a home tests high, a second test is recommended because levels of radon gas can vary significantly due to a variety of building conditions such as indoor convective air current changes, building temperature variation, and variations in ventilation.

Harry Wise asked at what level people should be particularly concerned about radon.

"If you're testing at four or above it needs to get fixed, if you're testing at 40 or above it needs to get fixed right now and if testing above that, you need to not be living there,” she said.