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'Overwhelming' response for radon testing after Lehi woman shares cancer diagnosis story

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LEHI — Thousands of Utahns responded to a Lehi woman's plea to test their homes for radon after she was diagnosed with stage four nonsmoking lung cancer.

"The response has been overwhelming," said Eleanor Divver, radon coordinator at the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. "People testing and asking questions."

Kerri Robbins shared her diagnosis and how she discovered high levels of radon in her home with KSL in November. Since then, more than 11,000 Utah residents have ordered tests for the cancer-causing gas.

"We're so appreciative of Kerri," Divver said. "She is absolutely saving lives."

Radon action levels

Following the advice of a cancer specialist, Robbins had her home tested for radon in the fall. The results revealed the level in her home was 31.3 pCi/L (picocuries per liter).

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that homeowners install a radon mitigation system if the level is 4 pCi/L or higher.

"I love my house. I love my neighborhood, and come to find out that that's probably what's given me cancer," Robbins told KSL in November. "I get up the next morning and I thought, 'I've got to let people know this.'"

Kerri Robbins looks at Christmas cards in her home in Lehi. Thousands of Utahns responded to her plea to test homes for radon in November after she was diagnosed with stage-four non-smoking lung cancer.
Kerri Robbins looks at Christmas cards in her home in Lehi. Thousands of Utahns responded to her plea to test homes for radon in November after she was diagnosed with stage-four non-smoking lung cancer. (Photo: Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

Radon is a radioactive gas that forms naturally in the ground as uranium and other metals break down, according to the EPA. It enters homes through cracks and gaps in the foundation.

"Because there is no known safe level of exposure to radon, EPA also recommends that Americans consider fixing their home for radon levels between 2 pCi/L and 4 pCi/L," the EPA's website states.

The World Health Organization recommends homeowners take action to remediate radon if levels reach 2.7 pCi/L or higher.

"Our level went from 31.3 to 1.3," Robbins said after installing a mitigation system in her home. "I feel so much more comfortable in my house now."

A radon mitigation system is shown.
A radon mitigation system is shown. (Photo: Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

Robbins said testing for radon is inexpensive, easy and the only way to know if your home has elevated levels.

"A heck of a lot cheaper than cancer," she said. "My chemo drug is $16,000 a month."

Following her diagnosis, Robbins said it was an emotional holiday season because everything is more precious to her now.

"Baking my cookies, you sit there and you wonder: 'How many more times am I going to be able to do this?' Because I know it's limited," she said. "For the first time ever in my life, I wondered: 'Is heaven like Christmas?'"

Robbins said she still has a good quality of life and is using that energy to alert others about radon.

"I'm on a mission. We're going to save lives," she said. "This isn't going to happen to somebody else just because of ignorance."

Utahns test for radon

Heidi Parker lives a few streets away from Robbins and decided to test her home after learning of Robbins' cancer diagnosis.

"I had never thought radon would be in my home, especially where it's a new home," Parker said.

Her home came back with a radon level of 19.7 pCi/L.

"I felt nervous for the health of my family," Parker said about the test results. "Essentially my two kids that are downstairs and my little 2-year-old grandson are smoking 40 cigarettes a day."

Heidi Parker's radon test results show 19.7 pCi/L.
Heidi Parker's radon test results show 19.7 pCi/L. (Photo: Stuart Johnson, KSL-TV)

Parker quickly got a mitigation system installed, which captures radon underneath the foundation and pulls it through a pipe out and away from the home.

"Our radon levels now are undetectable," she said. "I give Kerri all the credit. Who knows if she saved me from cancer or my 2-year-old grandson or my 17-year-old?"

Heidi Parker at her home in Lehi.
Heidi Parker at her home in Lehi. (Photo: KSL-TV)

Robbins' story also prompted Rebecca Watson and her neighbors to test their homes in Draper.

"This house is 53 years old and we had no idea," Watson said. "I have a walkout basement, so I thought I had enough ventilation in this house."

Watson's test results came back with a reading of 7.9 pCi/L. She also had a mitigation system added to her home.

"You can't be comfortable in your house when you know you have high levels of radon," she said. "I don't think people are really aware of the danger of it."

Of the more than 11,000 tests requested after Robbins shared her story in November, about 8,500 were provided for free by the mitigation company Utah Radon Services.

"Within an hour, we had about 2,000 requests for radon tests," said TJ Mellars with Utah Radon Services.

Of the results that have come back, the company reports that about half tested at or above the World Health Organization's action level of 2.7 pCi/L. Mellars said no areas of Utah are exempt from the need to test.

"Radon exists in St. George, in Cedar City. In fact, some of the highest radon ever measured in Utah was in Beaver," he said.

Order a test

Utah residents can order discounted tests for under $11 through Alpha Energy Laboratories. The price includes the analysis of the test.

Health departments in Summit, Tooele, Wasatch, Box Elder counties, along with the Bear River Health Department, sell discounted radon tests at their offices.

Utah Radon Services offers a free radon test. The test provided by the company uses the same third-party laboratory, Alpha Energy, as the test ordered through the state.

The state radon office provides a searchable list of certified radon professionals for measurement and/or mitigation.

Residents of Salt Lake County needing financial assistance to pay for the cost of radon mitigation can apply through the Green and Healthy Homes program.

Even in homes with a radon reduction system installed, the state radon office recommends that you still test your home every two years.

From November:

The EPA recommends re-testing your home for radon if you've renovated or altered your home since you last tested or if your living patterns change with someone occupying a lower level of the home than previously tested.

Divver said the earth is constantly changing beneath homes.

"We had a lot of people call in and say that their results changed because of the earthquake," Divver said.

If someone first tested during the summer months, Divver highly recommended that they also test in the winter. She also said it doesn't matter if you live on the benches or in the valley.

"There's uranium in the soil, there's uranium in the rock everywhere," she said. "It doesn't have to be near a canyon. It doesn't have to be on top of a mountain."

Across the country, the EPA estimates that one in 15 homes has too high levels of radon. Utah is more at risk, with 1 out of 3 homes testing above the EPA's action level.

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