Radium levels in Virginia water indicate that the state will not have as big a problem as northeastern states with radioactive radon gas building up in houses, an educator says.

"If you look at radium 226, the presence in Virginia on a scale of 1 to 10 would probably be about 6.5," said Joe Henderson, a medical physicist with the University of Virginia. "Pennsylvania would be about 8 and Maine probably would be a 10."

Last week, the Virginia Health Department began checking 800 homes for radon using monitoring devices that are placed in buildings for two hours. Radon, which can cause lung cancer, is formed through the decay of products that came from uranium, such as radium. The concentration of radon found recently in a Boyertown, Pa., house was so high that officials said living there for a year would be equivalent to smoking three packs of cigarettes a day for a lifetime.

The Health Department is checking homes of Health Department employes throughout Virginia, with a concentration of tests in a Central Virginia geological formation where uranium might be found.

Charles Price, director of the Health Department's bureau of radiological health, said he hopes to have a report finished by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. It is too early to draw any conclusions, he said, but the first tests seem to indicate Virginia does not have as much of a problem as Pennsylvania, he added.