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NYS urging testing for 'silent killer'

In recognition of National Radon Month, the state is reminding New Yorkers to test their homes for that invisible, odorless and tasteless gas that can ultimately be fatal. State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States - after cigarette smoking - and the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers.

"The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that radon is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths a year," Zucker says. "About 2,900 of those deaths occur in people who never smoked."

Karl Koniarczyk, one of a number of New York State-certified radon remediators, says there are two ways to mitigate radon. Essentially, he says, it circumvents the air from underneath the ground and behind the walls away from the house before it ever has a chance to get into it.

"There's either a sump crock depressurization, where we seal the sump crock and then route pvc pipe from the crock cover out of the house with a small fan outside or there's a technique called sub slab depressurization, where we come in with a diamond-bitted coring and core a hole through the floor," he says.

However, if a homeowner is handy, Koniarczyk says it can be done for about $200 in materials. He reminds homeowners that Western New York has some of the highest radon levels in the country.

"There are 28 towns in Erie County. Eighteen of them, on average, are over the limit," Koniarczyk says. "The DOH has tested 800 towns in New York State. Marilla, for example, is number two. The government limit for radon is four picocuries. We regularly remediate homes in Marilla that are 300 or 400 picocuries."

Koniarczyk says 90 percent of his remediation work comes through realtors, because most homeowners ignore radon until they want to sell.

It's true that radon in the air is not harmful. However, the state has found elevated radon levels in more than a third of New York home basements.

"Outdoors, radon moves through the air, keeping levels low," says Zucker. "But radon can reach harmful levels when it is trapped inside buildings. Because radon cannot be seen and has no odor, people tend to downplay the health effects and ignore the possibility that there might be a silent killer in their homes."

"The best suggestion is to do a passive test, which is nothing more than carbon charcoal in a vial of some sort," Koniarczyk says. "You can get those at Home Depot or Lowe's or Value, but the best deal is to go to the State of New York. A kit that will cost you $30 at Home Depot or Lowe's will only cost you $11 through the state."

Test kits and more information are available through the State Health Department's website.

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