Heed only the new official warnings about the potential for radon in your home, how to detect it and how to mitigate dangerous levels of the radioactive gas when necessary.

As with any such alert about potentially toxic dangers in your home, fraud, scams, come-ons and rip-offs inevitably follow.

Keep one step ahead by staying well-informed with the latest, official radon alert and testing and mitigation information.

A new study, in part, prompted the U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona to issue a national health advisory about the risks of breathing indoor radon.

"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," said Carmona.

Radon is an invisible, odorless and tasteless gas generated by the breakdown of uranium inside the earth. It triggers no immediate health symptoms, but ultimately is the nation's second-leading cause of lung cancer responsible for 21,000 lung cancer deaths per year, according to the most recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculations which raised the level from 14,000 deaths per year, based on previous studies. Smoking exacerbates the health effects of radon.

Since radon became a national health concern in the mid-1980s, millions of homes have been tested for radon, and an estimated 800,000 homes have been the scene of successful mitigation efforts. In addition, approximately 1.2 million new homes have been built with radon-resistant features since 1990.

Nevertheless, radon still can be found at elevated levels of four pCi/L (pico-Curies per liter) or more -- which requires immediate mitigation efforts -- in approximately one out of 15 homes, new or old, and in any state, according to the EPA.

On its website page "Radon And Real Estate" the EPA offers "The Home Buyer's And Seller's Guide To Radon" which recommends sellers test their home for radon before listing it and that buyers know the radon level of any home they are buying.  

Knowledge of radon's existence is a required disclosure item during a home sale in most states.

Indoor radon can be detected with a simple test kit available from hardware stores and the green cross agency, the National Safety Council (NSC).

However, if high levels of radon are found and additional or long-term testing is required, you may need to hire a qualified tester provided you first contact your state's radon or health office which oversees the profession.

More information about testing procedures is available from the NSC.

The EPA advises that while it once recognized two non-federal national radon proficiency programs, their members and others may no longer use EPA's logo or name, listing letters and identification numbers which have not been valid since the EPA closed its proficiency program in October 1998.

The EPA says no person or company should represent themselves, their products or their services as "EPA Listed" or "EPA Approved" or otherwise imply an EPA sanction because no such sanction exists today.

State radon or health offices are the official overseers of radon professionals. Seek professionals elsewhere at your own risk.

That's particularly true should you find radon levels at or above four pCi/L (pico-Curies per liter) which warrants immediate mitigation efforts.

Based on a federal radon survey of homes completed in 1991, the average indoor radon level is 1.3 pico-Curies per liter (pCi/L) in the United States. The average outdoor level is about 0.4 pCi/L.

Different methods can be used to reduce radon in homes. Sealing cracks and other openings in the foundation is a basic part of most mitigation efforts. However, in many cases, a system with one or more vent pipes and fans is used to reduce radon levels.

Installing such a venting system, however, is not considered a do-it-yourself project but, a job for a state-certified contractor.

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