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The new year brings a focus on good health and progress. Nowhere is emphasis more important than the home, where so many spend so much of their time.

Your home, however, may be causing you harm and you don’t even know it.

The No. 2 cause of lung cancer in the United States is radon gas. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that radon causes more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths every year. The World Health Organization states that as many as 14 percent of the lung cancer cases in many countries are caused by exposure to radon.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that causes cancer, can build up to unsafe levels in any home. That is why EPA starts every new year encouraging Americans to get their homes tested for radon.

“If a high radon level is found, the good news is that this serious environmental risk can be reduced by using simple, proven techniques comparable to the cost of other minor home repair or improvement projects,” said Bill Wehrum, assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation.

Millions of homes in the United States have elevated levels of radon.

Because radon gas is invisible and odorless, the only way to know if a house, school or other building has a radon problem is to get the building tested. As part of Radon Action Month, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is providing free test kits for residents.

Richelle Tolton is radon coordinator for DHEC. She said elevated levels of the naturally occurring gas have been found in almost every county in South Carolina, but testing would help paint a more detailed picture of where elevated levels are.

"Our program initially started in the area of predicted mapping that had been done in the late 1980s and early 1990s," Tolton said. "But as the program grew, we've expanded and we have seen the elevated amounts. In some counties, we haven't had enough testing to really be able to say whether there are elevated levels there.”

On its website, DHEC explains the two types of radon test kits.

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Short-term tests offer a quick and cheap way to test for radon. Short-term tests take from two to 90 days. Once the test kit is submitted to the laboratory, lab results usually take two to four weeks to be received. Test results can only measure the radon levels in your home during the test period.

Long-term tests stay in place for more than 90 days. The results from a long-term test give a better picture of a family's actual radon exposure.

"If you do major structural changes to your home, then you would want to test at that point to see how that may have impacted the changes to the home and how it traps radon gas," Tolton said.

The coordinator said using the kit should be easy, but assistance is available. "We provide instructions and also we are available by phone to walk anyone through it. But it is fairly straightforward."

To request a kit or for more information on radon, radon testing and mitigation, and radon-resistant new construction, visit scdhec.gov/radon or the EPA’s National Radon Action Month website at epa.gov/radon/nram.

If a home hasn’t been tested for radon in the past two years, it’s time to test. Repeating the good news: Radon testing is easy and inexpensive. Homes with elevated radon levels can be fixed using current radon-remediation technology.

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