Testing for radon gas levels in 34 buildings at Hill shows low, relatively safe levels of accumulation of the potentially dangerous gas.

Radon gas detectors were set up in the buildings in December as part of an Air Force-wide program to check for accumulation of the gas, a naturally occurring gas resulting from deteriorating uranium in the ground.Col. Phillip G. Brown, bio-environmental engineer at Hill, supervised the testing and announced the results.

"On a comparative basis, the results mean the risk of dying from lung cancer from radon exposure in our test buildings is roughly the same as that of a non-smoker's risk of dying from lung cancer," said Brown. "While the risk is not zero, it's very low."

Detectors were placed in 30 housing units, three dormitories, a child-care center, and a temporary lodging facility. Of the 35 detectors, called alpha trackers, only one apparently did not function properly and its data were not accepted for analysis.

The Environmental Protection Agency has established a level of 4 picocuries per liter of air (cu/l) as the minimum level below which no corrective action is necessary.

Brown said the highest reading obtained at Hill was 2.2 pcu/l and most readings were around 1.1 or less pcu/l.

"We had two buildings which tested above 2 picocuries per liter," said Brown. "Our highest result was 2.2 picocuries per liter." Eight buildings recorded 1.8 to 1.2 pcu/l, 24 had 1.1 or less, of which 14 registered .9 pcu/l or less, according to Brown.

"If the levels would have been higher, we would have taken more measurements and taken corrective action," Brown said, noting under EPA guidelines no corrective action is necessary.

Hill is one of 136 Air Force bases around the world undergoing testing in the Radon Assessment and Mitigation Program. Brown said of those 136, five bases have shown high probability ratings of 20 or more pcu/l, 48 had medium ratings of between 4 and 20 pcu/l, and 82 had low ratings.

Radon is an odorless, radioactive gas produced by the natural decay of uranium in the soil. It can accumulate in buildings, especially basements.

"Research has shown that extended exposure to high levels of radon increase the risk of developing lung cancer," said Brown.