Roanoke County woman diagnosed with cancer ‘shocked’ to discover high levels of radon in home

’If I had known sooner, I certainly would have done something about it’

ROANOKE, Va. – When Nancy Stokes moved into her Roanoke County home 13 years ago, it already had a radon mitigation unit.

“I was very happy with that and it was just fine and then I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia about two-and-a-half years ago,” Stokes said.

She and her doctor tried to figure out what environmental factors could have contributed to her diagnosis.

“My oncologist asked me, he said, ’Well, do you live in a high radon area?' I said, ‘I don’t know.' I said, ‘But I have a radon mitigation unit.’ And he said, ‘Well, when was the last time you tested it?’ And I said, ‘Never!’ And he goes, ‘You know, you might just test it, just see,’” Stokes said.

That’s when she tested her home for radon and discovered the radon levels were seven times higher than the limit recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“I was like, really shocked, and there was no way for me to know how long it had been really high,” Stokes said.

Stokes called Steve Anderson, the owner of Radon Safe, a licensed radon testing and mitigation business in Roanoke. Anderson said that parts of Southwest Virginia are hotbeds for radon.

“The EPA estimates that 30 to 40% of homes in this area will test high for radon,” Anderson said.

The EPA created a map of high-risk radon zones, however, Ryan Paris, the radon coordinator for the Virginia Department of Health, said people can’t only rely on the map to tell if their home is at risk.

“You could have a situation where only one house on a street has a radon problem and nobody else does. It can be that localized,” Paris said.

EPA Radon Risk Map for Virginia (EPA)

That’s why the EPA recommends that everyone test their home for radon at least every two years and in the winter when radon levels are highest because there’s less ventilation since windows and doors are typically shut.

Deep dive: What you need to know about radon

“It can be found on homes without a basement, apartments,” Anderson said. “Any living area that’s in contact with the ground can test high for radon.”

Most radon tests take a couple of days. The longer the test, the more accurate the reading.

You can buy a do-it-yourself test for less than $25 online or at most home improvement stores. You can also hire a licensed professional for around $100 to $200.

If radon levels are high, experts can install a radon mitigation system that essentially sucks the radon out of a house and into the atmosphere. That system runs continuously 24/7.

If homeowners can’t shell out about $1,000 for a system, there are some other things you can do to lessen your risk for radon exposure.

“Either improve your ventilation and or get a portable air filter device,” Paris said.

Stokes not only got her home’s radon levels under control, but her cancer treatments have worked.

“I feel really good. The treatment that I took worked and my oncologist is very happy with my numbers,” Stokes said.

She said a simple radon test is worth the peace of mind knowing she isn’t at risk anymore.

“If I had known sooner, I certainly would have done something about it," Stokes said.

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