Radon is a colorless, odorless naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from the decay of uranium and radium and exists in our environment.  You can't see it, taste it, smell it or feel it.   Indoor radon is believed to be the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.  The only way to know if you have radon in your home is to test for it. 

What Type Of Test Kit Do I Need?

There are essentially two different types of "do-it-yourself" radon test kits available in the area.  The first type is the "Charcoal Canister" type. These are the least expensive kits, but also have limitations.  There is a larger percentage of error in the readings and these are designed to be used as a "short-term" test (for example, for only 2 to 5 days).  But these are a very reliable means of determining whether your home has a radon problem or not.  The second type of test kit is the "Alpha Type" test kit.  These test kits cost a little more money but have a lower percentage error than charcoal canisters.  The Alpha Kits are not intended for short-term type testing but are better suited for determining average radon levels over a longer period of time (for example, anywhere from one month to one year).

Where Can I Get Test Kits?

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Chemung County, 425 Pennsylvania Avenue, Elmira, NY 14904 may have test kits available for a nominal cost.  You can contact them at 734-4453.

In the table below are local stores that carry the two different types of radon test kits:


 Charcoal Kits (Short Term) Alpha Kits (Long Term)
Lowes, 913 County Route 64, Big Flats, NYBulkhead Hardware Company, 1145 Pennsylvania Avenue, Elmira, NY
Southern Tier Hardware, 103 East Woodlawn Avenue, Elmira NYHorseheads DO-IT Center, 124 North Main Street, Horseheads, NY
Valu Home Center, 1105 Broadway, Elmira, NYSouthern Tier Hardware, 103 East Woodlawn Avenue, Elmira NY



If you have recently had your home tested for radon and received a letter saying that you have "high" levels, don't panic. The letters that have been sent out from the lab are "form" letters.  They are essentially classifying anything above 4 picoCuries per liter as being "high".  It's not as simple as that.  If you don't spend at least 2 hours everyday in the basement or extensive time on the weekends, the first floor is probably the location that should be tested.  Radon levels found on the first floor are generally much less than the levels found on the basement level. 

Also, you don't necessarily need to hire a radon contractor to address your problem.  The most important passive measure to reduce radon levels is to seal all openings to soil gas.  Polyurethane caulk can be used to seal cracks in the floor and walls.  Sump pump areas can be sealed off as well as unused floor drains.  If the foundation is constructed of hollow cinder blocks, check to see whether a solid block was placed on the top layer.  If not, those openings should also be sealed.  Any openings to crawl spaces should be air-tight sealed with a membrane material. 

And...., the easiest way to reduce radon levels in your home is to increase ventilation.  This will include providing make-up air for any combustion device as well as any device that vents inside air to the outdoors (such as a range hood or bathroom fan).  The use of a barometric damper in the basement area will allow make-up air to enter the home only as needed.

Once you've detected radon in your home, the next step is to determine how serious the problem is and how soon before you should take action to reduce the radon level.  You can contact the EHS section of the Chemung County Health Department at (607) 737-2019.  We can discuss your radon results with you and could even make an inspection of your home to offer suggestions on possible mitigation measures that you could take.