In Lehigh and Northampton counties, 40 percent of homes are believed to contain unsafe levels of radon, which, according to the EPA, is 4 or more picocuries per liter of air. The cancer risk from that level is about the same as smoking half a pack of cigarettes every day.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the nation behind smoking, leading to 15,000 to 22,000 deaths each year. As a way of bringing attention to this health concern, the Environmental Protection Agency has named January National Radon Action Month, placing public service ads on billboards, radio and TV.
Home test kits cost $15 to $30 and can be purchased at a hardware store or private laboratory. Typically, a canister is put in the basement or the lowest level of a house for a day or two, and its charcoal filter absorbs the radon. It's then mailed to a lab, and results are sent to the homeowner and the DEP.
Private companies charge about $150.
Some people don't believe radon poses a health risk or prefer to ignore the problem.
'There will always be skeptics,'' Bill Brodhead of WPB Enterprises Inc. said. ''Twenty-five percent of the population still smokes. If you don't 'get it' about smoking, how are you going to 'get it' about radon?''
Pennsylvania doesn't require people selling their homes to conduct a radon test, but if they've had one done, they're required to disclose the results to potential buyers. A buyer also may request a test, and typically the seller pays for any remediation.