HOUGHTON - Radon gas is colorless, odorless and tasteless, and potentially lethal.
The Surgeon General has declared Oct. 17 through 24 Radon Awareness Week to bring attention to the dangers of radon, the second-leading cause of lung cancer in America.
Radon exposure has no noticeable side effects, such as headaches, but it is responsible for about 21,000 lung cancer deaths every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette
The Surgeon General has declared Oct. 17 through 24 Radon Awareness Week to bring attention to the dangers of radon.
High levels of the radioactive gas, which is a Class A carcinogen, may be present in one out of 15 homes in the United States.
"There are some areas locally that tend to have higher levels than others. Testing is the only way to determine the level in your house," said Luke Stout, Residential Mitigation Provider with Radon Solutions, LLC, one of the only licensed mitigators in the area. He has mitigated 14 homes in the Copper Country in the last three years.
Stout, a full-time engineer, got into the radon measurement and mitigation field after his own house had 10 times the recommended threshold of radon gas, 4 picocuries per liter. A picocurrie is a unit of measure for radiation. A 1,000-square-foot house with 4 picocuries per liter has about 2 million atoms of radon decaying in it every minute.
Many health departments, including the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, provide do-it-yourself radon test kits, which include a test device, postage to mail it to a lab and fees for having results analyzed and a report sent back. Test devices may also be obtained from some hardware stores and home improvement centers.
"These test kits work very well and provide accurate results. These kits do need to be sent to a lab to obtain the readings but for most homeowners a couple weeks to get the results is not a problem," Stout said. "The important thing is to test your house."
The American Lung Association, Centers for Disease Control and National Cancer Institute all recognize radon gas as a health problem, and the EPA and Surgeon General encourage homeowners to test every two years.
Radon gas is created by the natural decay of uranium in the soil, and can get into a home through the foundation, floors or walls. The gas tends to move from an area of high pressure to low pressure - typically from the soil to the home. Even newer, energy-efficient homes could be susceptible to high levels of radon, and the only way to know is to test.
"Depending on the radon level another short term or long term test should be conducted to verify the results before mitigation is pursued," Stout said. "There are several options but the most effective means is called sub-slab depressurization."
That method uses a fan to create a vacuum under a concrete slab, the radon gas is collected there and vented before it can even reach the inside of the home.
According to the Cancer Prevention Centers, the EPA, General Services Administration, and departments of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, and Veterans Affairs are focusing efforts on radon reduction and mitigation in homes, particularly of low-income families. For more information, visit, radonplan.org.
For more information about Radon Awareness Week and the associated federal action plan, visit radonweek.org. Luke Stout with Dollar Bay-based Radon Solutions, LLC, can be reached at 370-8336 in the evenings or on weekends.