Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer deaths in the U.S. claiming more some 21,000 lives annually or slightly more than two every hour, reports Daren Deyaert, R.S., Environmental Health Director for the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department.
Radon is a radioactive, odorless gas produced from the decomposition of uranium.
Therefore, it could be lingering in a private home or public building without the occupant being aware of its presence.
Fortunately, scientists have provided the tools that can help protect us from radon, such as a simple test that can determine the approximate level of exposure in a specific structure, Deyaert said.
"In observance of National Radon Action Month, during the month of January, the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department has reduced the cost to $5 for the short term test kit and $10 for the long term test kit," Deyaert said.
In 2012, of the 80 tests conducted in Dickinson and Iron counties, 31 percent of the homes were found to have elevated levels of radon.
"Radon can be found all over the U.S.," adds Mary Rosner, Health Officer for the Marinette County Health and Human Services Department.
"Radon comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rock, and water and gets into the air you breathe," Rosner said. "It can get into any type of building - homes, offices, and schools - and build up to high levels. But you and your family are mostly likely to get your greatest exposure at home. That's where you spend most of your time."
"You should test for radon," she said. "Testing is the only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon. The EPA and the Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. Testing is inexpensive and easy - it should only take a few minutes of your time."
In Marinette County, the Public Health Department has free test kits. For more information, call (715) 732-7670.
"You can fix the problem," Rosner said. "There are simple ways to fix a radon problem that are not costly. Even very high levels of radon can be reduced to acceptable levels."
Below the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality lists some Frequently Asked Questions about Radon:
Is radon really a health risk? I've heard it is a scam.
Yes, radon is a Class A carcinogen, which means it is known to cause cancer in humans. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer after smoking, and results in approximately 21,000 lung cancer deaths in the United States each year. Not everyone who breathes radon will develop lung cancer. Your risk is determined by such things as how much radon is in your home (and/or workplace, school, or other indoor environment); the amount of time you spend in your home (and/or workplace, school, or other indoor environment); and whether you smoke or have ever smoked. The longer you are exposed, and the higher the radon level, the greater the risk.
How do I know if I have a radon problem in my home?
The only way to know whether your home has elevated radon levels is to test your home. There are no physical signs to warn you of the presence of radon, and it cannot be detected with the senses.
My neighbor tested and didn't find a radon problem. Do I still need to test?
Yes. Radon levels can vary significantly from home to home or land parcel to land parcel. The only way to know whether your home has a radon problem is to test your home.
Are the "do-it-yourself" kits accurate or should I hire a professional?
Radon testing is not a complicated process, but procedures must be followed if you want an accurate, reliable result. So, if you purchase a quality device, and if you read and follow the instructions, a "do-it-yourself" test kit should be adequate. Follow-up measurements should be made to confirm an elevated radon level.
I have headaches. Could it be radon? (What are the health effects of radon?)
The only known health effect of radon is an increased risk of lung cancer. Radon does not cause any warning symptoms (like headaches, nausea, fatigue, or skin rashes), and if you are suffering from those symptoms or other physical ailments, you should consult your physician.
If I find a radon problem, what next? (Can it be fixed? Who does this kind of work? What does it cost? What do they do to fix a radon problem?)
Elevated radon levels can be reduced, but first you should confirm that you really have a problem by conducting follow-up measurements. When a problem has been confirmed, you may want to hire a professional radon mitigation contractor to help you reduce the levels.
Occasionally, when the radon levels are fairly close to the guideline of 4 picocuries per liter (4 pCi/l), caulking and sealing radon entry points may be enough to bring the radon down to acceptable levels. However, caulking and sealing does not always provide the reduction you need, and it is seldom a long-term solution to a real radon problem. In most cases, a professional contractor would install a sub-slab depressurization (SSD) system and provide a guarantee of levels below 4 pCi/l.
The cost of a radon mitigation system in Michigan can vary significantly depending on where you are in the state and who you hire. A typical range in price would be $750-$1,500.
Should I test my water for radon?
The Michigan Indoor Radon Program does not encourage radon in water testing. Radon problems in Michigan homes rarely originate from the water supply and are almost always a soil gas problem.
For more information about the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department's Radon Program, call the Kingsford office at 779-7239 or the Iron River office at (906) 265-4166.