A known carcinogen, radon is a gas emitted by the natural decomposition of radioactive materials within the earth's crust. Seeping up out of the ground, the occurrence of radon is inconsequential until it is trapped within the confines of a home or workplace.
"In certain parts of the country, they have had issues with radon gas coming out of the ground. ... It's heavier than most gases, it tends to collect in basements," said Frank Homiller, medical physicist for the Hope Center. "If it is present in the home above a certain concentration, it is a known lung cancer hazard. You can breathe it in, it decays into another material that can be deposited in the lung and it gives a radiation dose to the lung.
"It can deposit a lot of radioactive energy right in the lung tissue, that's why it's a concern."
Harmful concentration levels, however, are not a serious threat to Bartow County. The Environmental Protection Agency places Bartow within the moderate zone for radon although nearby counties to the south, including Cobb, Fulton, DeKalb and Gwinnett, lie within the agency's high probability zone.
"[Radon] is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium and thorium, which are found in the earth's crust," Homiller said. "It depends on the geology of your area, a lot of times it's associated with a lot of granite. For instance, you can actually measure the radon gas coming off of Stone Mountain -- it's not enough to hurt anyone because it's diluted -- but it's just a natural part of the earth's radioactive history.
"Just knowing what I know casually about the geology around here, there may be some areas where it might be a concern, but for the most part -- it's not."
Agreeing with Homiller's assessment of the local threat, Don Liotta, owner of Outside the Box Construction, urged residents to test homes out of caution although excessive radon exposure is not highly likely in the area.
"[Radon testing] is something the consumer can do themselves. ... With the amount of rocks and granite that we have in the area of Cartersville and Bartow County, it is something that would be good for every homeowner to do," Liotta said. "I don't want to cause people to be scared, but it's kind of like we go to get our blood pressure tested -- not because it's something we have but because it's the smart thing to do.
"We check the oil and our emissions in our vehicles, we check our plugs to make sure they're firing best they can and this is just another check."
Radon home test kits are available at hardware and home improvement stores for about $10 to $15. Tests can be short-term or long-term, lasting from two days to more than 90 days. The EPA suggests using a long-term test when available for more accurate results.
If radon is found to be present in the home, radon mitigation can be performed around the foundation to redirect the escaping gas. Liotta has conducted radon tests and mitigation projects in the past but has not come in contact with a home in need of radon mitigation in Bartow.
Radon Week is an awareness project promoted by nine governmental agencies involved in the recently published Federal Radon Action Plan seeking changes in the way radon concerns are addressed. One measure includes radon testing implemented into the real estate process mandating homes be tested before a sale.
For more information, visit www.radonweek.org or www.epa.gov/radon.