OWEGO -- According to data released by the New York State Department of Health, a new warning has come out regarding dangerously high levels of radon in the Southern Tier.

Tioga and Chemung counties are two of the top five counties in New York state with the highest levels of radon.

Radon exposure is the leading cause of lung cancer deaths in non-smokers, with 900 to 1,000 New York residents dying each year as a result of radon exposure, according to NYSDOH.

Radon cannot be detected through sight or smell, and without testing, residents may have no idea that their families are at great risk.

According to county documents, it is estimated that around 51 percent of homes in Tioga County have elevated levels of radon.

Tioga County towns with alarmingly high levels of radon (starting with the highest rates) are Candor, Barton, Newark Valley, Nichols, and Berkshire.

County officials strongly encourage residents living in these towns to get radon tests done.

"I strongly encourage all Tioga County residents to test for radon in their homes," said Todd Kopalek, supervising public health sanitarian.

Radon is measured in picocuries per liter of air, or pCi/L. As testing is the only way to determine radon levels, the federal government recommends homeowners take action to lower radon levels if test results show levels of 4 pCi/L or more.

Across the state, the top five counties with highest average radon levels (represented in picocuries per liter of are) are:

* Tioga -- 945 homes tested, 10.5 pCi/L

* Allegany -- 535 homes tested, 10.72 pCi/L

* Steuben -- 1,497 homes tested, 11.81 pCi/L

* Chemung -- 2,056 homes tested, 12.43 pCi/L

* Cortland -- 1,690 homes tested, 14.55 pCi/L

Tioga County Public Health is offering free radon testing through their Healthy Neighborhoods Program. There are no income requirements to have a radon test done in your home. To schedule a free radon test, call (607) 687-8600.

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