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Radon is a cancer causing, radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. and the number one cause among non-smokers. Radon comes from the natural breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and finds its way into homes through cracks and holes in the foundation, construction joints, and plumbing fixtures. Any home can have a radon problem. The only way to determine if your home is trapping radon gas is to test.
You can test your home by purchasing a test kit from the National Radon Program. If you purchase a kit from a home improvement store, be sure to check the expiration date. Another option is to hire a Certified Radon Measurement Provider. The South Carolina Radon Program can provide a limited number of free short-term radon test kits to South Carolina homeowners each year.
Watch a quick overview of how to use the SC Radon program's short-term test kit. For a successful test, follow the detailed instructions that come with the kit.
Radon & Lung Cancer
Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer and the most common cause of cancer deaths in South Carolina. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking. EPA estimates that radon causes more than 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. EPA also states that smokers who are exposed to radon have a much higher risk of lung cancer.
U.S. Surgeon General's National Health Advisory
"Indoor radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and breathing it over prolonged periods can present a significant health risk to families all over the country. It's important to know that this threat is completely preventable. Radon can be detected with a simple test and fixed through well-established venting techniques."
- January 2005
Recommendations for Home Testing
There are two types of radon tests:
- Short-term tests offer a quick and cheap way to test for radon. Short-term tests take from two to 90 days (depending on the device used). Once the test kit is submitted to the laboratory, lab results may take two to four weeks. Keep in mind that test results can only measure the radon levels in your home during the test period.
- Long-term tests stay in place for more than 90 days. The results from a long-term test give a better picture of your family's actual radon exposure.
Step 1 - Conduct a short-term radon test. If the result is 4 pCi/L or higher, conduct a follow-up test. (Mitigation decisions should not be made based on a single short -term test, regardless of the test result.)
Step 2 - Follow up with either a long-term test or a second short-term test.
- For a better understanding of your year-round average radon level, use a long-term test.
- If you need results quickly, use a second short-term test.
The higher your initial short-term test result, the more certain you can be that you should use a short-term rather than a long-term follow up test. If your first short-term test results were high and you need results quickly, use a second short-term test. If your test result is more than twice EPA's 4 pCi/L action level, you should use a second short-term test immediately.
Step 3 - Evaluate results and take appropriate action.
- If you followed up with a long-term test: Fix your home if your long-term test result is 4 pCi/L or more.
- If you followed up with a second short-term test: The higher your short-term results, the more certain you can be that you should fix your home. Consider fixing your home if the average of your first and second test is 4 pCi/L or higher.
Understanding the test results
The amount of radon in your home is measured in pico Curies per liter of air (pCi/L). The EPA recommends that there be no more than 4 pCi/L of radon in your home. This is referred to as the "action level." The action level is the point where the risk of radon exposure justifies the cost of repairs. Because there is no completely safe level of radon, the EPA also recommends that you consider fixing your home if you find radon levels between 2 and 4 pCi/L.
If you make any structural changes or living pattern changes (for example, moving to a lower level of your home) you should retest.
How can I reduce radon in my home?
There are methods to prevent radon from entering your home and other methods that reduce radon after it is inside. To develop the right plan for your home, EPA recommends hiring a Certified Mitigation Provider. Consider obtaining estimates from more than one provider.
Radon levels in most homes can be reduced to 2 pCi/L or below, and most homes can be fixed for about the same cost as other common home repairs. Cost will vary with the reduction method you choose, the size of your house, how your home was built, and many other factors.
If your home has been mitigated, the contractor should provide for a short-term radon measurement to be conducted between 24 hours and 30 days after the system is operational. An additional post-mitigation test kit can be requested from DHEC. Homes that have been mitigated should be tested at least every two years.
Nationally-certified radon professionals in South Carolina
You may also find contractors through the two national certification programs (National Radon Safety Board or American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, Inc. (AARST) National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP)).
Information for home buyers and sellers of existing homes
EPA has also developed a Home Buyers and Sellers Guide as a resource if you are interested in buying or selling a home. Having real estate testing conducted by a Certified Radon Measurement Provider is a good idea. Radon Standards of Practice for both measurement and mitigation of radon can be found on the EPA radon webpage.
If mitigation is needed, the Radon Mitigation Consumer Checklist can also be a helpful resource for homebuyers.
DHEC's radon test kits cannot be used for real-estate transactions. Purchasers may request a free test kit from DHEC upon occupancy.
Home building information
Are you building a new home or are you a builder who is interested in building homes with radon resistant techniques?
Builders and contractors help to reduce residents' risk of lung cancer from exposure to radon when they build radon-resistant new homes. EPA states that the cost of radon resistant building is typically less than the cost to mitigate after construction. DHEC's Building Radon Out brochure is a great resource for home buyers who have purchased or are looking to purchase a new home that was built with the features of radon-resistant construction.
All new homes should be tested after occupancy.
Radon in water
Radon has also been found in private well water in areas with rocks that contain uranium or radium. If radon is in your well water, it may enter your home and the air you breathe when the water is used for showering and other activities around the house. Water containing radon is typically not a problem in homes served by public water systems. The University of Georgia Agricultural and Environmental Service Laboratories (706-542-7690 or email@example.com) offers tests for radon in well water. For more information about radon in water, call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791.
Historical radon test data
EPA's Radon Zones map shows the areas in the country, including South Carolina, with the highest potential for elevated indoor radon levels. EPA, however, recommends that all homes be tested for radon regardless of geographical location as homes in all three "zones" have been found to trap radon.
View a map of S.C. test results by county. This map is current through April 30, 2019.
Number of tests, average result and highest result by county (Current through March 31, 2019)
S.C. DHEC Publications
- Radon Mitigation Consumer Checklist
- Building Radon Out
- S.C. Radon Brochure
- Certified Radon Measurement Providers
- Certified Mitigation Providers
EPA Publications and Online Information
- Citizen's Guide to Radon
- Health Risks of Radon
- Consumer's Guide to Radon Reduction
- Home Buyers and Sellers Guide
- Radon Resistant New Construction
- Radon Standards of Practice
Other Helpful Web Sites
- CanSAR - Cancer Survivors Against Radon
- National Radon Program Services (Kansas State University)
- American Association of Radon Scientists and Technologists, Inc. (AARST) National Radon Proficiency Program (NRPP)
- National Radon Safety Board
Useful Telephone Numbers
- National Radon Hotline: Purchase radon kits by phone
- National Radon Helpline: Get live help for your radon questions
- National Radon Fix-It Line: For general information on fixing or reducing the radon level in your home
- SCDHEC Radon Info