HANCOCK - Radon gas isn't something many people think about as a health threat, but it can cause lung cancer, so nationally and in Michigan this week, health officials are publicizing the issue.
Lynne Madison, Western Upper Peninsula Health Department environmental health division director, said both National Radon Awareness Week and Michigan Radon Action Week started Sunday.
"It's really important locally," she said.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
This is Radon Awareness Week in Michigan and nationally, and January is National Radon Awareness Month. Radon test kits are available free at an office of the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department.
A radon level of four picocuries per liter of air tested is considered a threat to health, and Madison said many homes in the health department coverage area of Baraga, Gogebic, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties, have tested much higher.
"There have been homes in this area that are 100 (picocuries)," she said.
The health effects of breathing radon gas are lung problems, including cancer, Madison said.
"Anytime you breathe in a radioactive gas, it can damage your lungs," she said.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency website (epa.gov), 20,000 people will die from breathing radon gas this year, which is 100 times more than from carbon dioxide poisoning.
The EPA has set January as National Radon Action Month.
Madison said it's not known how many lung cancer deaths are caused by radon.
"We don't have the statistics, because the population is too small," she said.
Radon gas leaks into a home through cracks in the basement foundation, Madison said, so the best way to remove the threat is to vent the basement. A 4-inch-diameter hole is drilled in the basement floor, and a PVC tube is placed in the hole and run through the house to the attic, where a fan draws air out of the house.
"I really urge people who are building new houses to put in a ventilation system," she said.
The reason radon levels are so high in the Copper Country has to with its geology, particularly Jacobsville sandstone, Madison said.
"Areas that have Jacobsville sandstone have been found to be high in uranium," she said.
Uranium decays into radon, Madison said.
However, Madison said radon can be elusive, with high levels found in one house, while the house next door has low and safe levels.
The health department has free radon test kits, which Madison said are easy to use. Each office in Bessemer, Hancock, L'Anse and Ontonagon has them.
Kurt Hauglie can be reached at khauglie@ mininggazette.com.