Lassa Column: Radon is a Silent Killer, Can Be in Any Home
By State Senator Julie Lassa
You can’t see it, smell it or taste it, but it’s the second leading cause of lung cancer and it could be present in dangerous levels in your home. It’s radon, a naturally occurring gas created by the breakdown of uranium in the soil.
Radon moves up from the ground and can enter buildings through cracks and holes in the foundation. Once in your home, it can accumulate in the air you breathe, causing radioactive particles to settle in your lungs. About 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year are related to radon exposure, and the risk goes up if you smoke.
It is estimated that 1 out of every 15 homes in the U.S. has elevated levels of radon. While radon problems can be more prevalent in some areas, radon can occur anywhere. The only way to know for sure whether your home or another building has high radon levels is to test the air.
In an effort to raise public awareness, the Environmental Protection Agency has declared January Radon Awareness Month to encourage people to learn about the dangers of radon and how they can protect themselves and their families from this deadly chemical.
Fortunately, it’s easy to test your home for radon. Test kits can be purchased at most hardware stores or through local health agencies and are designed for either short- or long-term testing. Short-term tests give you a snapshot of the radon level in your home while long-term tests let you track your radon levels over time.
It’s important to remember that the level of radon in your home can fluctuate depending on a number of factors, including how well ventilated your home is. In the winter, closed doors and windows allow the gas to accumulate, so testing right now may let you know if you have a radon problem.
The EPA recommends that you start with a short-term test, and follow up with a second short-term test or a long-term test if your first test result is 4 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) or higher. That’s the level at which the EPA recommends that you take action to lower the level of radon in your home.
The good news is that there are a number of methods for reducing radon, from sealing foundation cracks and other openings to installing a vent pipe system and fan that pulls radon from beneath your house and vents it outside. A radon contractor can inspect your home and tell you what steps you need to take; radon fixes tend to cost about the same as other common home repairs.
Many new homes are built with features to avoid the buildup of radon gas. If you’re planning structural renovations to your home, such as converting an unfinished basement into a living area, you should test for radon first so you can incorporate radon reduction features in your project.
To learn more about radon, visit the EPA Radon Website at www.epa.gov/radon, or call the Radon Hotline at 1-800-55RADON (557-2366). The Wisconsin Department of Health Services also has helpful information, including local resources and an interactive radon map, available at www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/radiation/radon/index.htm or by calling 1-888-569-7236(888-LOW-RADON).