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article imageUSGS — High levels of radon found in Pennsylvania water wells

By Karen Graham     May 13, 2017 in Health
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released the results of a multi-year study of data collected on radon levels in groundwater from wells across certain areas of Pennsylvania. It was found that 14 percent of wells in the state have high levels of radon.
Cancer-causing radon has been found in 14 percent of water wells in 16 geological regions across the state of Pennsylvania in a study conducted using data collected from 1986 to 2015. According to ABC News, the results add slightly to the bigger threat homeowners have from airborne sources of the radioactive gas.
And while radon primarily enters a home through the rock and soil around the foundation, the study focused on groundwater sources of radon with surprising results. The findings are significant because radon in water can be released into the air through washing dishes, taking a shower or doing the laundry, for example. This adds to the overall radon levels in a home.
Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer, behind smoking, and the number one cause of lung cancer in non-smokers. And it's a serious problem in Pennsylvania. Estimated lung cancer deaths per year in Pennsylvania due to residential radon exposure is between 860 - 3,800, according to the state's Public Service Authority.
It is also estimated that 40 percent of homes have radon levels greater than the EPA guideline of 4 pCi/L. Here is another fact - Approximately 270,000 single family homes in Pennsylvania, housing 750,000 people, are expected to have radon levels greater than 20 pCi/L That is five times the acceptable level. However, only 10 percent of all the homes in the state have been tested.
The USGS findings on water well testing for radon levels
There are a total of 188 recognized geological formations across the state of Pennsylvania. These formations are classified as "geologic units." Due to limited data being available, only 16 of these geologic units were included in this study. The 16 geological units covered about 31 percent of the state's total land area. It was noted that this created gaps in the study.
Five of the geologic units were in the northern and western parts of the state and consisted of sandstone and shale formations. The remaining 11 geologic units are in the southeastern part of the state and consist of a mix of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. However, in southern York, Lancaster, and Chester counties, the Peters Creek Schist geologic unit was found to have the highest potential radon exposure from both groundwater and indoor air.
Overview map of Peters Creek Shist geological unit results  on radon levels.
Overview map of Peters Creek Shist geological unit results on radon levels.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is advising residents to test the radon levels in their homes first. If they find a high radon level, then they should have their water tested for radon. Radon is easily removed from water systems using charcoal filtration or aeration, reports the Times-Leader.
Radon levels can vary widely, even within the same geologic unit,” ” said Eliza Gross, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who led the study. “Because of that, the only way a homeowner can know if his or her water or indoor air has high levels of radon is to get them tested, and then treat their homes if necessary.”
More about radon levels, cancercausing, Pennsylvania, water wells, usgs multiyear study
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