Maryland receives $47,000 grant to combat radon; Carroll a 'hot spot' for dangerous gas

Radon is an invisible gas that has been linked to lung cancer, but there was nothing invisible about the initiative, announced Friday, to raise awareness of radon.

State, federal and local public health officials turned out at the Carroll County Office Building in Westminster to discuss a $46,949 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to the Maryland Department of the Environment that is expected to have a direct impact on the health of Carroll County.


The timing was right: January is Radon Action Month, as promoted by the EPA.

Radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that can seep into buildings from beneath their foundations, is linked to more than 20,000 lung cancer deaths yearly across the country, and to 800 lung cancer deaths annually in Maryland, according to Dr. Howard Haft, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Tests for radon, however, are inexpensive — about $20 — and available from local hardware stores, and mitigating a radon problem is also a simple, relatively inexpensive process, he said.

"When you think of all the other things that we do in terms of trying to avoid cancer, in terms of invasive procedures and expensive things, this is both inexpensive and effective," Haft said. "Low-hanging fruit."

That radon is a health hazard and that simple steps can be taken to mitigate are realities that have been known for decades, according to Dr. Cliff Mitchell, director of the Bureau of Environmental Health at DHMH. What is different about Friday's announcement is a greater degree of cooperation in spreading that message and the funding to back those efforts up.

"We are going to be working very closely, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and local health departments," Mitchell said. "We are going to have a unified effort to try and reach out."

Mitchell's local counterpart, director of environmental health Leigh Broderick, said that effort will be coordinated with other health departments around the region, and will include a more visible media campaign than in the past.

"We have been doing the free version with our Facebook and web page this past year, but it may cost a little bit of money to do something more," Broderick said. "With this grant funding, we have more options."

Exactly what those options will be are something that Broderick said will be a topic of planning over the coming weeks, but a series of public service announcements might be in the works, as might be a billboard campaign.

There are at least a couple of key groups the campaign will be designed to reach, according to Mitchell, first among them being homeowners or residents who can test where they live, the second being real estate agents, with the inspection of a home prior to sale being a good time to test.

"It's also a good question to ask when buying a home, 'Have you tested for radon?'" Mitchell said. "Or 'has it been abated if a radon problem has been identified?'"

Radon exposure increases your risk of developing lung cancer but does not guarantee it, and the risk is a cumulative, long-term one, according to Mitchell, "so if you have radon in your home, you can still appreciably reduce your risk by fixing that radon problem even if you have been in your home for a long time."

Radon results from the decay of naturally occurring uranium in the soil, and is itself radioactive, irradiating a person from within if inhaled, according to Mitchell. The radiation risk from radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air, with the EPA having designated a level of 4 picocuries per liter as the threshold for taking action, such as installing a radon mitigation system that can pump radon out from under a home's foundation so it does not accumulate.

Part of the reason the grant was announced in Carroll County, according to Broderick, is that the average reading taken in homes here is 11.1 picocuries. An interactive map of radon levels by ZIP code is available online at

"That's three times the action level," he said. "Carroll is kind of a hot spot."


The grant and subsequent campaign is intended to make sure everyone in Carroll knows their risk and takes action as necessary.

As MDE Secretary Ben Grumbles put it in his remarks at Friday's announcement, "A picocurie of prevention is worth a pound of cure."


More information

For more information on radon, or to view an interactive map showing average levels of radon found in Maryland homes by ZIP code, go to

People can also call the Bureau of Environmental Health help line with questions at 866-703-3266.