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You can't avoid it completely, and it can cause cancer. However, you can take steps to reduce your exposure to it.
"It" is radon, and it is common in central Kentucky.
"The radon that's in Marion County is here as a result of the geology, specifically the black shale," said Keith Brock, the Marion County Solid Waste and Environmental Coordinator.
Radon is produced by the natural decay of uranium, which is found in nearly all soils, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Marion County Fiscal Court has been dealing with its own radon problem during the last few months, and Brock hopes the situation will raise awareness of the radon situation throughout the community.
A recent radon test at the David R. Hourigan Center revealed radon levels between 18.2 and 24.4 pCi/L in the basement and between 4.1 and 6.3 pCi/L on the upper floors. There is no "safe" level of radon exposure, but the EPA recommends taking steps to fix the situation if levels are 4 pCi/L or higher.
The risk of lung cancer increases with long-term exposure to high levels of radon, and those risks are even higher for smokers. According to the EPA:
- With radon levels of 2 pCi/L, an estimated two people in 1,000 could get lung cancer. For smokers, that risk is 32 people out of 1,000.
- With radon levels of 8 pCi/L, the cancer risk is 15 people in 1,000 for non-smokers and 120 people out of 1,000 for smokers.
- With radon levels of 20 pCi/L, the cancer risk for non-smokers is 36 people out of 1,000 or 260 people out of 1,000 for smokers.
Individual radon gas particles decay after 3.8 days, and the risk to people occurs when the gas is inhaled.
People who have a compromised immune system could be at risk for lung cancer.
And that's why the fiscal court is trying to fix the situation at the Hourigan building.
In January, the magistrates approved paying $3,765 to Protect Environmental to seal off the leaks in the basement. In many cases, sealing the leaks fixes the problem. At the Hourigan building, the radon levels were lowered to around 15-17 pCi/L, according to Brock. This is still too high, based on EPA recommendations.
The next step in the radon mitigation effort is to install a sub-slab suction system. The fiscal court agreed to pay Protect Environmental $3,500 to conduct diagnostic testing to determine the best method to alleviate the problem. The solution will involve installing a system of fans to draw the radon through vents that will release the gas outdoors rather than allowing it into the building.
Because radon is so common in this area, Brock encourages local residents to test their homes and businesses for radon levels as well.
"The only way to determine if it's in your living space is by testing," he said.
Brock recently ordered 100 test kits, which are available for free at the County Judge's office. The office is located on the second floor of the Hourigan Building, 223 N. Spalding Avenue in Lebanon. The phone number is (270) 692-3451.
Anyone who finds they have elevated radon levels can call Brock at (270) 692-0799. He is willing to help them find ways to mitigate the situation, and he said he would keep the information confidential.
"There's no way to get around it, but there are ways to keep it out of your home," Brock said.