Published on 05/22/03

Radon testing program can help prevent lung cancer

By April Reese
University of Georgia

Radon causes cancer. Experts say it's the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, after tobacco smoke, killing 15,000 to 22,000 people a year. Now, a new program can help you avoid it.

An odorless, tasteless and invisible gas, radon is released by the natural decay of uranium in soils. It can easily enter homes through foundations and well water.

But through a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiative, the University of Georgia Extension Service and the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences now have a program designed to show how to test for radon in your home. Detail information on this program is offered at

Jorge Atiles, UGA's Extension Service housing specialist, heads the program. "You can reduce and prevent the entry of radon in your home," he said. "And testing is the first step."

The program has four part-time radon educators, housed in extension offices in Gwinnett, Hall, Walton and Sumter counties. The program has also provided training on indoor air quality and radon for all extension agents in family and consumer sciences. Through the radon educators and the FACS extension agents, 5,000 free radon test kits are being offered to Georgia homeowners. About 1,000 have already been issued.

The data from the testing will help evaluate the risk of radon gas for Georgians. The current EPA estimate, Atiles said, is that one in five homes is at risk of dangerous radon levels. "We simply don't know until we test," he said.

Testing for radon is easy. Get a free test kit through the UGA Radon Education Program from your county UGA Extension Service office. You can buy test kits, too, from home improvement stores or from county health departments.

If the radon level in your home tests high, Atiles recommends testing your home again with a similar device.

The program will only provide one free test. You will have to buy follow-up tests on your own. You can get them, though, at a discounted price ($6.95) with a UGA discount coupon provided by AirChek, Inc.

According to the EPA, radon in drinking water causes 168 cancer deaths per year, 89 percent from lung cancer caused by breathing radon released from water, and 11 percent from stomach cancer caused by drinking radon-contaminated water.

"About 1-2 percent of radon in indoor air comes from drinking water," Atiles said. "However, breathing radon released to air from household water increases the risk of lung cancer over the course of your lifetime. Drinking water containing radon could also present a risk of internal organ cancers, primarily stomach cancer."

Testing for radon is the only way to tell whether it's in your home. "If after testing the air you find elevated levels of radon," Atiles said, "consider testing your water if you get your drinking water from a well."

The University of Georgia Center for Applied Isotope Studies (CAIS) can test water for radon. There is a fee for the test. Contact radiochemist Michael Neary (706-542-6115 or to test your well water.

If your radon level is high, Atiles suggests contacting the UGA Radon Educators Center to determine the best way to limit the radon level.

A list of certified radon mitigators is on the Web at You can learn more about radon mitigation at

For training in measurement and mitigation, contact the Southern Regional Radon Training Center at 1-800-626-2703.

(April Reese is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)