MARQUETTE - As people begin to seal their homes up for the impending winter, many are concentrating on what they want to keep out: namely snow and bitter winds.
But homeowners often don't know that the same process that keeps their families warm and their heating bills low may also result in higher concentrations of a dangerous radioactive gas.
Radon, a naturally occurring gas, is odorless, colorless and tasteless and comes from the decay of uranium in soil and bedrock. It has been shown to cause cancer and is the second leading cause of lung cancer, after smoking.
Radon test kits are available at the Marquette County Health Department’s environmental office for a small fee. The health department offers two different types of randon kits. The short-term kit takes six days and can be mailed in. The cost is $12. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Not only are homes typically sealed up tighter in the winter - meaning radon gas has few chances to be ventilated out of the building - but warmed air rises and creates a vacuum effect that draws a higher concentration of gases up from the ground.
And this week - deemed Federal Radon Action Week by the Surgeon General - more than any other, officials are urging citizens to test for radon and to take action, if needed.
A do-it-yourself radon test is a simple prospect, and the necessary equipment can be purchased at the Marquette County Health Department for $12.
The test sits in your home for anywhere from a few days to a year - depending on they type of test - and the tester must then be shipped to a laboratory that will inform you of the results.
Any elevated levels should be verified through retesting, but if the concentration of radon in a home exceeds 4 picocuries per liter of air, experts suggest you move forward with the installation of a radon mitigation system.
According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the most common mitigation technique used in Michigan is a sub-slab depressurizaion system, which typically utilizes a fan and vent pipe to reduce pressure under the slab and exhaust radon into the open air. Installation of such a system costs somewhere between $750 and $1,500.
Even if the concentration is less than 4 pCi/L, the EPA suggests people consider steps for mitigation.
When it comes to concentrations of radon, geography matters little and any home, regardless of age or construction, could have a radon problem. Homes located on adjacent pieces of property can have vastly different radon levels and no one should overlook the possibility that their home may have a radon issue, according to Mike Murphy, who deals with radon issues in the Great Lakes region for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"Everyone should test and your house should be tested every three to five years, or whenever you do work or remodeling that includes ground contact," he said.
Though the agency recommends testing for everyone, the EPA identifies Marquette County's average radon level as Zone 2, which means a typical home has a moderate potential for elevated radon levels.
Over a year ago, the EPA oversaw the creation of the Federal Radon Action Plan - whch was created in conjunction a number of other federal bodies - which is intended to, in part, demonstrate the importance of radon testing, provide economic incentives to encourage testing and mitigation and build a demand for services.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.