Statesman Journal: Run on radon test kits continues
Author: Tiffany VU
Posted: February 11, 2013

Read the original article in the Statesman Journal here.

Updated research from geologists at Portland State University revealed in late January that Silverton has high levels of radon, which sparked a run on test kits at a local hardware store.

Employees at Ace Hardware in Silverton said they quickly sold out of the few radon testing kits they keep in stock Jan. 25, the day after the PSU findings were publicized.

“It’s not something we stock a tremendous amount of, but they went quickly this morning,” said employee Al Homrighaus. “We’ll order heavier than we have in the past because of the new report and the way (testing kits) went out the door.”

The store received another shipment of test kits Jan. 28 and sold out the same day, said Jose Orozco, another employee at Ace Hardware. Orozco added that the store has had to order more test kits from Colorado because the closest distribution center in Moxee, Wash., had run out of stock.

The PSU study also showed moderate to high levels of radon in other parts of the Mid-Valley, with high readings in Aurora, Dallas, Turner, West Salem and parts of South Salem.

Radon is an odorless, tasteless and invisible gas commonly found in both outdoor and indoor air, but exposure to high radon levels is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

According to data compiled by PSU geology professor Scott Burns and five of his students, about 55 percent of all the homes tested in the 97381 ZIP code reported more than 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) of radon. The EPA considers radon levels beyond 4 pCi/L unsafe and recommends mitigation for homes that have such levels.

On average, only one of every eight homes tested for radon in the United States reports high radon levels. The average for Oregon is one in 15; in Portland it’s one in four.

Burns said radon “hotspots” like the one in Silverton are caused by higher concentrations of naturally-occuring uranium, the decay of which produces radon, in highly porous soil or along geologic features that allow the gas to rise into the air. It was likely, he said, that small faults in the bedrock beneath Silverton were allowing more radon to rise to the surface.

“I think every house in (Silverton) should be tested,” Burns said. “The good news is that the cost to mitigate is not that high — anywhere from $500 to $2,000, and $2,000 is for a pretty big house.”

Brett Sherry, the Oregon Health Authority’s radon program coordinator, said high radon levels can be fixed and are no cause for panic, but he also cautioned that because radon levels fluctuate and are affected by multiple factors, even identically built houses right next to each other could have different radon levels.

“Our point is that every home needs to be tested, regardless of where they’re located,” Sherry said.

In response to media reports on PSU’s findings, Silverton City Manager Bob Willoughby contacted the Oregon Health Authority for more information on radon and testing kits, and forwarded its response to members of the city council and city staff, stating that he intended to test his own home for radon levels.

Gerald Fisher, the city’s public works director, said that to his knowledge, no radon tests had ever been conducted on city-owned buildings like City Hall and the Silverton Community Center, nor did his department plan to run such tests in the future.