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Officials urge residents to test homes for radon, with high levels in the Tri-Cities

Jay Emberton, a home inspector, sets up his machine to test a home in Johnson City for radon

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. --- It's the second leading cause of lung cancer, and in our region, there's a good chance it's in your home.

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is encouraging everyone to test their homes for radon.

In Upper East Tennessee, four of our seven counties are designated as the highest level of radon exposure by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In Southwest Virginia, it's a similar story. Five of our eight counties have a high potential for radon.

As a home inspector, Jay Emberton works mostly with home buyers, but says testing for radon is an easy procedure every family in the Tri-Cities should consider.

"The federal EPA has a limit of 4 picocuries per liter. Their magic number is four. I've seen scores as high as 37, and that was a home with an encapsulated crawl space. Scores from 8-15 are very common in this area," said Emberton, who operates two WIN Home Inspection franchises in the Tri-Cities.

According to the EPA, if 1,000 smokers were exposed to a radon level of 10 pCi/L for a lifetime, about 150 could get lung cancer. For non-smokers, about 18 out of 1,000 could get lung cancer with the same exposure.

"We know that radon is the second most common cause of lung cancer, not related to smoking," Dr. Stephen May of the Sullivan County Regional Health Dept. said. "Usually we don't worry if it's less two. Between 2-4, we stat to say, 'well, you might have a problem.' Greater than four, you've got a problem that needs to be mediated."

Emberton's equipment takes 48 hours to give back a detailed and accurate radon rating. If the results exceed 4 pCi/L, Emberton recommends a follow up test to confirm the findings.

TDEC is teaming up with gyms across the state to offer free radon testing kits, with health and New Year's resolutions on our minds.

"In Tennessee, approximately 1-in-5 homes are higher than the EPA action level for radon," said Jan Compton, who works in the Office of Policy and Sustainable Practices at TDEC.

The kit comes in the mail and will hang in your home for 3-to-7 days.

If the test comes back higher than four, a followup test with an inspector like Emberton is recommended.

"It can absolutely be mitigated, no matter how high the score," Emberton said. "It is not any more expensive than a decent home repair. It can always be mitigated and be fixed so you don't have to abandon your home just because you found some radon in it."

You can contact Emberton for an inspection by clicking here.

Request a radon test kit from TDEC here. In Virginia, you can get a do-it-yourself radon testing kit for the price of shipping ($3) here.

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